Psychological fallout from gun horror 'could last years'

A leading psychologist today warned that the distress caused by Derrick Bird’s killing spree in England could affect the communities involved for years.

Professor Chris Brewin said preparations should be made now to support those who may have long-term mental health issues as a result of the massacre.

The academic, who was involved in supporting those affected by the July 7 terror attacks in London, said only a minority of people may need help but efforts should be made now to make sure services are in place.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think most people will respond by helping themselves. The community themselves, their friends and family will provide much of what is needed initially.

“Some families will have very practical needs, financial needs, needs for information, very basic things they need to help them to get through the next few days and weeks.

“In the longer term there will also be a minority of people who will have mental health needs and things need to be starting to be put in place now to make sure that those responses happen at the appropriate time.

“It’s not appropriate so much immediately apart from people who are currently overwhelmed by distress.”

He said it could be years before the trauma of Wednesday’s events affects some of those involved.

“People’s response to these events is very individual. Some people respond with a great deal of distress immediately, other people feel quite numb often for a long period of time but get very distressed after a period of weeks or months or sometimes even years.”

He continued: “There are four main groups that we need to be thinking about: people directly threatened or injured themselves, there are people who are bereaved, people who were witnesses to some of the things that happened and also first responders – members of the emergency services.”

The July 7 attacks in London in 2005 showed the importance of making plans to deal with mental health problems, he said.

“We found that it was very important to make plans at an early stage. So what should be happening now is that mental health services should be in touch with the local authorities and also with schools to make sure there is good communication and they are going to know what they are going to do for those minority of people who don’t make a good recovery and are going to need more help in the longer term.

“It will only be a minority but it is important their needs are not overlooked.”

He said the local community in Cumbria will be key to providing the support needed: “For most people time will be very helpful but the impact of an event like this for some individuals is going to be in the very long term.

“The community needs to own this event so that it’s not so much people coming from the outside and telling them what to do but they involve the community leaders themselves, people who live there, in deciding how they want to respond to these events, how they want to look after the people who are affected by it.”

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