The stabbing incident at the outdoor party in Comox recently will have a lasting traumatic effect on many youths in our community. ADOBE STOCK IMAGE

The stabbing incident at the outdoor party in Comox recently will have a lasting traumatic effect on many youths in our community. ADOBE STOCK IMAGE

Counsellor: Trauma of Comox teen sandpit party stabbings will be far-reaching

Harder to find support in events like stabbings at Comox teen party because so many involved

The incident at the ‘Sandpit’ in Comox, which resulted in multiple stabbings and one arrest, will have long-reaching traumatic effects for all those involved, and their loved ones, says a Comox Valley counsellor.

An outdoor party on April 17 at a popular teen hangout in Comox had a devastating conclusion after a fight broke out, resulting in three youths being hospitalized for stab wounds, and another being arrested by the Comox Valley RCMP.

Related: Multiple stabbings at Comox bush party

According to local child behaviour counsellor Laura Forseth, such an incident can have numerous physical and mental effects on everyone involved — not only the victims themselves, but also families and their friends, whether or not they were present at the time.

Some signs to watch for include developing new fears (for example, around personal safety or school safety), sleep issues like nightmares, headaches, stomach aches, general muscle tension, reduced concentration on schoolwork, and a decreased desire to socialize with peers.

And while such a traumatic event would affect anyone, regardless of age, the effects on youths can be more severe, simply because of a lack of knowledge and understanding.

“Because of their age, youth may not know what help is available to them or have the ability to access help on their own,” said Forseth, a Canadian certified counsellor with a master’s degree in counselling psychology. “They may also feel embarrassed to reach out for support. They may feel like they need to put on a brave face or power through their feelings without asking for support. They also might not really understand what is happening to them psychologically/physically and be confused and reluctant to share their experience with anyone.”

School District 71 (Comox Valley) has resources available for anyone affected by the incident. The district activated its critical incident response team immediately following the event. That team offers support to students, families, and staff.

(The Record reached out to SD71 to speak to a member of the team, but was told team members are still extremely busy with the priority of tending to those who need support.)

Unique challenges

“A situation like this definitely poses unique challenges to ensure all those who have been affected receive the help they need,” said Forseth. “It’s not only the youth that witnessed the incident that will be affected by this but also those who were simply at the pit when it happened, the parents of those who attended, youth who did not attend but have heard about the incident from friends or family, parents of youth who attend community schools who are now questioning the safety of their children in general.”

The challenge will be to prevent anyone falling through the cracks, and not getting the support they need to get past this event. Forseth said the actions taken by the crisis team were a crucial first step, and now teachers will have to be diligent in watching out for students that are exhibiting changed behaviour (withdrawn, irritable, newly skipping classes, etc.), and if they see anything out of the norm, to reach out to the student or get in touch with parents about their concerns.

“Crisis line phone number/text numbers could be provided to students via bulletin boards at school, such as the Vancouver Island Crisis Society (vicrisis.ca),” said Forseth.

And it doesn’t end within the walls of the school.

“I think we can share the responsibility as adults to look out for our youth and for each other,” said Forseth. “If a parent notices that their teen or someone else’s teen seems off, we can talk to that teen about how they’re doing, ask if they need any supports or if they know how to access supports. Some youth will be reluctant to ask for help so simply being available, gently curious and empathic can be a good starting place.”

According to Forseth, group trauma differs from individually experienced trauma in that many people are experiencing the stress and shock of the trauma at the same time. This significantly decreases the amount of grounded, calm, and unaffected individuals available to support those that need it.

Peers helping peers

“If many of our peers are also shocked and traumatized, it’s harder to find a peer with enough head space to also support others,” she said. “If families are shocked and traumatized, it becomes harder for a teen to find a mentally available adult to talk to. Those affected collectively go into fight, flight, freeze mode and need those that are less affected or outside of the trauma to support them. Our known support systems might not cut it because they too may be traumatized.”

Forseth said that it’s not only the adults who can help the children in this regard. If peers can spot the signs, they can help their friends begin to work through things as well.

“Peers often open up to their fellow peers. So if a youth is noticing that their friend is struggling, they can simply be a safe, empathic ear and they can help their friend find help via school counsellors, parents, a trusted adult or the crisis line. It’s important that we feel like we can talk about or process our trauma in a safe way so youth can ask their friends how they’re doing instead of assuming that everyone is doing OK.”

As for parents, listening is the key.

“We, as parents, don’t need to rush in to fix the situation,” said Forseth. “We can simply hear and empathize with our teen’s experience. Maybe your teen wasn’t at the incident so it’s confusing to you why they’re having such a big reaction, but it will be helpful to meet them where they’re at. If they say they’re struggling, scared, confused, and angry, parents can offer a supportive ear.”

The dangers of social media

Forseth also pointed out the dangers of social media when dealing with such a personal trauma. She has seen it herself, with the fallout from this incident. The victim-blaming, parent-blaming, community-blaming and institution-blaming is ubiquitous.

“It all moves so quickly and we’re all prone to jumping to conclusions to fill in the gaps,” she said. “I’ve heard at least three different versions of what happened and each paints the victims and perpetrator in a different light. I think when an (incident like this) happens we all want an answer and we all want to know who to blame as it creates a sense of control or safety.”

Forseth said the community at large can also play a positive, supportive role.

“We can reach out to families who may have been impacted and see if they need support. We can choose to disengage with social media posts where victim/parent/community blaming is potentially damaging. We can educate the teens in our (circles) about mental health, trauma and the benefit of processing such trauma in a way that feels safe to them.”

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READ ALSO: Saanich school grapples with death of 13-year-old

READ ALSO: Vancouver Island sees massive bed shortage for people with eating disorders


terry.farrell@blackpress.ca
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