Dawson rampage still having psychological impacts

Three years after shooting, 40 per cent of students, faculty suffer mental-health problems

A new study shows the psychological impacts of the 2006 Dawson College shooting in Montreal still run deep in students and staff affected by the deadly rampage.

Eighteen months after the assault that left one student dead and 16 other people wounded, researchers from the McGill University Health Centre and Montreal’s Louis-H. Lafontaine Hospital surveyed 949 members of the Dawson community.

They found that 40 per cent of respondents suffered from mental-health problems.

The researchers also revealed that two per cent were in a state of post-traumatic stress due to the attack, while seven per cent were still experiencing post-traumatic stress symptoms.

Richard Boyer, a researcher with the Louis-H. Lafontaine Hospital’s Fernand-Seguin Research Centre, said Monday that 12 per cent of respondents suffered from severe depression and close to seven per cent had seriously considered suicide.

“There was a heightened risk of major depression or suicidal thoughts if they developed post-traumatic stress during this (18-month) period,” Boyer said in a phone interview from New York, where the preliminary findings will be presented Tuesday at New York University.

“What’s surprising is that the post-traumatic stress problems and the other (psychological problems) persisted for so long after the event.”

On Sept. 13, 2006, gunman Kimveer Gill stormed the college, killing 18-year-old student Anastasia De Sousa and wounding 16 other people. Previous reports had said 20 people were injured.

During the wild, 20-minute shootout that sprayed more than 70 bullets inside the school, students and staff scrambled for cover.

Montreal police shot Gill in the elbow moments before he took his own life.

The study’s authors called it the first of its kind to evaluate psychological interventions undertaken in the aftermath of a school shooting.

Boyer praised Dawson College and the McGill University Health Centre for deploying crisis counsellors so quickly. He also noted they did a good job of following up in the medium term.

But he said those affected by the shooting must be reminded that they could still suffer from such an event years later, and that help is still available.

From the questionnaire, which took between 30 and 90 minutes to complete, researchers diagnosed whether respondents had symptoms of post-traumatic stress or severe depression.

“People are not always aware that their distress is called post-traumatic stress or is called severe depression, so it’s hard to get them to seek help when they think everything they’re going through is normal and that it will pass with time,” Boyer said, noting that just 30 per cent of respondents diagnosed with a mental-health problem met with counsellors.

“That’s very weak.”

Researchers also found that some students in need of psychological assistance refused to seek help because they feared being stigmatized by those close to them.

– The Canadian Press