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Dawson shootings sparked mental-health disorders in students: study

MONTREAL – Many Dawson College students suffered psychological problems after the September 13, 2006 school shooting, according to a study that looks at the incident and the efforts to help people afterward.

The report released Wednesday detail the mental-health problems that surfaced after gunman Kimveer Gill opened fire at the downtown Montreal college – killing one student and wounding 19 others.

"A total of 30 per cent of respondents experienced a psychological disorder, including post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, alcohol dependence and social phobia – twice the percentage seen in a 2002 mental-health survey of the Quebec population," said Alain Lesage – research team leader from the Fernand-Seguin Research Centre of Montreal’s Louis-H Lafontaine Hospital.

Researchers drew from a questionnaire completed by 948 people, mostly students but also some employees.

Most of the respondents were at the college when the shooting occurred and nearly half reported hearing gunshots but not seeing the shooter. Of those who were there that day 36 per cent of respondents said they saw someone wounded or killed by the shooter.

"After the shooting, approximately 18 per cent of the respondents developed a mental-health disorder even though they had never had one before in their life," the report said.

The closer someone was to the shooting and the greater their exposure to it, the higher their risk was for developing a mental disorder, researchers found.

Most people who had a mental-health problem also did not consult a professional.

The reason invoked most often was that the problem would go away by itself "even though this was clearly not the case after 18 months for many respondents," the report said. Nearly 14 per cent of respondents said they searched the Internet about mental-health issues after the shooting.

"These results points to the need for long-term support," the report said.

The study also examined the medical response following the shooting. Dozens of mental-health professionals were on hand when the students returned to the college several days after the attack and remained available once classes resumed.

The report found psychological support was lacking for the injured students who were hospitalized.

The main priority was caring for their physical injuries, the report said.

"Psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers visited the hospitalized victims, leaving their business cards, but no thorough evaluation of their condition was done." And no follow up was offered during their recovery or when they returned to school, the report said.

The evaluations of the effect and psychological interventions "highlights the fact that needs were not fully met," the report said, despite the creation of a crisis management team based at the college and support from the health-care and social-services network.

Troubled students continued to ask for psychological support at Dawson after several months but the large-scale mobilization of resources had been scaled back, the report noted. Students were referred to therapists "but many did not have the financial resources nor the insurance coverage for reimbursement."

The researchers also proposed an intervention plan model for responding to similar situations.

A plan that includes psychological intervention must be developed, they said, by an inter-department government committee, and should be made available to schools so that they can put it into place immediately during a critical incident rather than having to create their own, the report said.

The Quebec government provided funding to the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre in 2007 to look at the psychological effect of the attack.

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