Driving into Armstrong for a press conference Thursday, Interior Health adolescent and adult psychiatrist Dr. David Smith saw signs of Christmas.
He saw the Christmas tree being erected and decorated in time for Thursday’s annual Armstrong downtown light up. He saw people decorating stores.
Smith also saw the signs of Christmas as signs that healing in the community was underway.
In town to talk to media about how the community was coping in the aftermath of the murder of 18-year-old Taylor Van Diest Halloween night, and, to some extent, the tragic deaths of four-and-five-year-old siblings in a motorhome, and the workplace fatality of a popular 18-year-old lacrosse player – all in a two-month span – Smith said there is quite a wide range of normal reactions following tragic events.
And there’s plenty of resources for citizens to get help if required.
“It’s not uncommon that strong, emotional reactions will come out in these types of events,” said Smith. “Often it’ll be irritability, anxiety, anger, guilt, grief, denial, sadness, a whole range of emotions.”
People may feel physical pain, said Smith, such as stomach aches or headaches. They may feel fatigue or experience change in appetite.
There will often be cognitive changes following a tragedy; confusion, blaming, difficulty with concentration, memory, decision-making, nightmares or flashbacks.
There could also be no change.
“It’s not uncommon to have any of these reactions,” said Smith. “People cope in different ways.”
Smith said such tragedies, as have been experienced in Armstrong, can affect everybody, not just family or the close friends of the victims.
Youth can be particularly susceptible.
The amount of time it takes for someone to cope with the events can vary as well. Some can get over things in matter of hours or days, others can go for a longer period of time.
There are steps individuals can take to help with their coping.
Do activities that make them feel safe or secure, said Smith. Talk to people who are supportive, continue normal routines wherever possible but make sure to take due precautions such as not walking in the evenings alone.
Armstrong Mayor Chris Pieper said citizens have been doing that since Halloween night.
“I’ve noticed more kids being driven to school, more people walking in groups and people in groups of four walking their dogs,” said Pieper.
Physical exercise is an excellent stress buster, as is relaxation, adequate rest and diet or even writing down your thoughts.
Community events such as Thursday’s downtown light up are a great way to help people support each other, and noted Armstrong is well-known for being a resilient, support-each-other community.
One of the best things that would help the entire community, said Smith, would be the arrest of a suspect.
“It would help tremendously, in many ways,” he said. “It just helps bring some closure to the situation and decreases the sense of vulnerability.”
HELP IS AVAILABLE
If stress symptoms persist or impair major roles in someone’s daily lives, help is at hand from the following resources in the North Okanagan (list provided by Interior Health):
- anxiety B.C. (www.anxietybc.com);
- Armstrong Boys and Girls Club (546-3465, www.boysandgirlsclub.ca);
- Canadian Mental Health (Vernon, 542-3114, www.cmha-bc.org);
- Can We Help You? Social Planning Council for North Okanagan (www.canwehelpyou.ca);
- Child and Youth Mental Health (Vernon, 558-2775);
- Enderby Community Health Centre (838-2450, www.interiorhealth.ca/Health Services/Primary Health);
- Family physicians and walk-in clinics;
- Family Resource Centre Society (Vernon, 545-3390, www.vernonfrc.ca);
- Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre (for children, youth and care providers, www.keltymentalhealth.ca);
- People In Need Crisis Intervention Society (545-2339);
- School District 83 (832-2157);
- Vernon Child and Youth Mental Health Office (558-2775, ask to speak to intake person);
- Vernon Health Centre (549-5737, ask to speak with a mental health counsellor).