July 1, 2009

Witnesses to school shooting fear stigma

The fear of stigma may have kept some from getting help after a school shooting, Canadian researchers said.

A team of researchers from the University of Montreal, Louis-H. Lafontaine Hospital and McGill University Health Center -- all in Montreal -- looked at the psychological aftermath of the Sept. 13, 2006, shooting at Montreal's Dawson College.

The study -- involving 949 members of the Dawson campus community -- found less than 2 percent had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and more than 80 percent of those who received care reported they were satisfied with the services provided.

However, the researchers found some students who may have needed psychological assistance were reluctant to seek help due to the fear of being stigmatized by friends and loved ones. Also, many men were 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, researcher Alain Lesage of Fernand-Seguin and the University of Montreal said in a statement.

The researchers also said certain groups, such as cafeteria staff, college support staff -- some of whom witnessed the shooting -- and those who were hospitalized, were overlooked. In addition, some professors felt powerless and incapable of helping students, the study said.

The findings were presented at the 31st International Congress on Law and Mental Health in New York.