A tragedy like the bus crash in Humboldt, Sask., that killed 15 people Friday night always prompts the question: what’s the psychological impact?
According to Calgary-based psychologist Dr. Scott Wooding, both survivors of the crash and family who’ve lost sons or brothers to the accident will need ample support from loved ones going forward.
Wooding emphasizes that for both of these groups, it’s key for them to avoid suppressing their feelings.
“The worst thing either one of those groups can do is suppress their feelings, because it’s going to come out somehow,” Wooding explained.
Common ways that suppressed feelings can surface in later years include bouts of depression, or drug and alcohol use.
Four Humboldt Broncos players, two coaches and a play-by-play radio announcer are among the 15 people confirmed dead following Friday night’s horrific crash between the junior hockey team’s bus and a tractor-trailer in northeastern Saskatchewan.
While police have not released a list of the injured and deceased, a handful of deaths have been confirmed by families of the victims ahead of an official announcement.
Parents helping children through the loss of a friend or sibling
There several signs parents can look for to ensure their children are dealing with their grief in a healthy way. According to Wooding, the three indicators that adolescents aren’t dealing with their grief in a healthy way are sleep issues, anger and withdrawal.
“Sleep is the key one. That’s the biggest symptom that there’s a problem,” said Wooding.
Normal teenagers, “need lots of sleep, and usually sleep well,” he added. Issues falling asleep or sleeping through the night are usually indicators that an adolescent is bottling their grief.
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In addition, anger and withdrawal can be symptoms of an unhealthy handling of grief.
“All teens get angry. If it’s an unusual amount, that’s the symptom of a problem,” said Wooding.
The best thing parents can do, he added, is make sure that teens have the appropriate resources to open up and explore these feelings.
Friends and family helping parents through the loss of a child
“There is nothing harder than a parent losing a child. There just isn’t,” said Wooding of the parents who lost sons in the crash.
While the grief they’re experiencing is incomparable, Wooding notes that it’s important for friends and families to follow up with them about how they’re doing, and give them an outlet to talk if they want to.
“You can’t expect the people who are going through things to come to you.”
Wooding warns that if these feelings are suppressed, or those suffering don’t feel they have an outlet to talk about their feelings, they may use substance abuse to deal with the pain later in life.
Why it’s important to talk to a professional
The common threat throughout all the tips Wooding offered was to talk about it, and to talk about it with a professional.
“People need to go and talk to professionals in this area. They need to know what they’re allowed to feel. They need to know what’s normal, and what’s not normal,” he said.
While Wooding expressed concern that there wouldn’t be enough mental health resources in the Humboldt area to go around, several groups have reached out already with offers to assist anyone impacted by the accident.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority said in a statement that it would be sending counsellors to various affected sites to provide support and pledged to work with the Humboldt community to determine which resources were needed by way of grief counselling.
In addition, the Kids Help Phone posted a statement encouraging any young people feeling the psychological impacts of the crash to call the help line. Counsellors are available to talk 24-7.
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.
The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts, and Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868) all offer ways of getting help if you or someone you know may be suffering from mental health issues.
The Kids Help Phone national online survey was conducted on April 19, 2017 by Toluna in English and French among 1,000 Canadian parents with teens aged 12 – 18.
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