With the return of fall, comes the return of routine. Summer vacation is over; adults go back to work, students go back to school and everyone’s schedules seem to get busier and busier with extracurricular activities.
However, for those affected by the Humboldt Broncos bus crash in April, this year will feel very different.
“For some students returning to school, there may be a few familiar faces missing from the classroom, the bus ride to school or the hockey rink,” says Tracy Muggli, Director Mental Health and Addictions Services in Saskatoon. “Some people in our province are still experiencing the pain, loss, grief, depression and anxiety stemming from the Humboldt Broncos bus crash.”
Front row- Leanne Ganes, Gayle Hood, back row- Erin Plamondon-Braun, Amanda Shadbolt, Dawnali Riemer, missing – Craig Hilsendager
Muggli and the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s Mental Health and Addictions Services teams responded the night of the crash and have been providing emergency and ongoing counselling and support to the community of Humboldt ever since. Since April, Muggli and her team have seen over 5000 people seeking counselling and treatment services, which include those who were part of critical incident debriefings in the days following the accident. “Feelings and experiences of trauma and grief do not have a timeline; they can happen to anyone at any time,” says Muggli.
It’s not just students who could be feeling this way, according to Muggli. She says teachers or staff members might be thinking about how to approach the academic year while supporting their students and their colleagues as they experience triggers that result in sadness or grief. “A bus driver could be worried about how kids will feel stepping onto their bus. Or maybe there’s a community member or a friend who has been supporting someone who has been grieving and now they’re experiencing their own grief related to the incident. Everyone processes grief and trauma in their own way,” she said.
With such a tragic and unexpected event, people can experience a suspended state or delayed response with their reactions and their recovery. J.Kevin Cameron is the Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for Threat Assessment and Trauma Response. Cameron and his team support agencies and professionals with intervention, prevention and aftermath strategies for crises, trauma, violence and conflict. He and his team have been advising the SHA’s Mental Health and Addictions team and have been providing support to the Humboldt community and community partners since the incident. He says that these delayed responses are completely normal.
“The Humboldt Broncos incident garnered worldwide media attention and while that attention and celebrity events may help some people cope, for others that’s not the case,” he says. “Some people can have a very delayed response because they are ‘overfunctioners’ and natural leaders who unconsciously delay their own grief reaction or trauma response because they are helping others.” Cameron says that recognizing overfunctioning is the key to the recovery process.
The important thing is to recognize that everyone’s response to trauma and grief is different and the symptoms they experience can be fresh or reminders of a past lost. “Some people can have chronic symptoms that are long term or that can intensify over time,” says Muggli.
Some people may have a belief that they should not be experiencing symptoms of trauma/grief because their loss wasn’t as great as someone else’s. As well, sometimes other people project this belief onto others deciding who they feel is “entitled” to be impacted and who is not. This dynamic is one of the biggest reasons for delayed or denied responses to trauma.
“What’s important to remember is that everyone’s individual circumstances are different. Everyone has the right to be as impacted as they are or need to be,” Muggli says.
It’s important to check in with various people to see how they are doing and Muggli encourages everyone not to hesitate when it comes to seeking help. Anyone can contact the Saskatchewan Health Line at 811, which can direct them to an appropriate service for their community. For those who live in Humboldt and area, please call Mental Health & Addiction Services at 306.682.5333 or Partners Family Services at 306.682.4135.