The Columbine school shooting in the US and Dawson College in Canada are examples of recent traumatic events that, due to their broad timeframe, allow researchers to examine their residual impact.

The Columbine shooting occurred in 1999 and was followed by 60 similar ones, despite increases in gun regulations in the US and Canada, twice as many as the previous decade.   Part of the reason may be 'copycat' attempts at the kind of impact and attention Columbine brought. 

”Despite the frequency of these incidents, there are very few empirical studies on their psychological effects and no studies have evaluated the effectiveness of psychological interventions,” says Dr. Warren Steiner, head of the McGill University Health Centre’s Department of Psychiatry and one of the key figures involved in implementing the emergency psychological intervention plan following the Dawson College shooting. “It is crucial that we learn from these experiences to better help those affected by such tragedies.” 

The Dawson College shooting occurred September 13, 2006 and a new study conducted by Steiner and colleagues with 949 members of the Dawson community, including students, faculty and staff, found that some students who needed psychological assistance were reluctant to seek help due to the fear of being stigmatized by friends and loved ones. 

Less than two percent of the community were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress, and seven percent report post-traumatic stress symptoms, as a result of the shooting and over 80 percent of those who received care reported that they were satisfied with the services provided, according to a new study by researchers from the Fernand-Seguin Research Centre of Louis-H. Lafontaine Hospital and the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), in Montreal, Canada. The preliminary findings will be presented at the 31st International Congress on Law and Mental Health in New York today. 

The research team also found that among male support staff, many were equally averse to seeking professional help. “People were disinclined to seek help because of prejudices related to mental illness, fear of showing weakness or appearing vulnerable to one’s peers or supervisor and the false perception that time would solve everything,” says Alain Lesage, a researcher at the Fernand-Seguin Research Centre of Louis-H. Lafontaine Hospital and a professor of psychiatry at the Université de Montréal. 

The researchers also discovered that certain groups, such as cafeteria staff (who are not Dawson College staff), college support staff, some of whom witnessed the shooting, and those who were hospitalized, were overlooked, and the repercussions of their psychological damage were underestimated. In addition, some professors felt powerless and incapable of helping students.