Nova Scotia

Free counselling sessions offered a year after N.S. mass shooting

A team of psychologists is offering free counselling sessions to Nova Scotians around the anniversary of the mass shooting that left 22 people dead.

People can take part in up to 3 sessions by phone or video from April 5-May 7

The anniversary of a traumatic event like the killings that began in Portapique can impact people in different ways, says Dr. Victor Day. (Robert Short/CBC)

A team of psychologists is offering free counselling to help Nova Scotians cope with the anniversary of the mass shooting last April that left 22 people dead.

The 13-hour killing rampage began on April 18, 2020, in Portapique and ended 13 hours later when the gunman was shot by police at a gas station in Enfield.

Dr. Victor Day said the anniversary of such a traumatic event can impact people in different ways, depending on their connection to the tragedy and their own life experiences. 

"We're offering this at this time because some people on the anniversary of the event either re-experience it in some way, or they realize that they're not coping as well as they had hoped a year later," he told CBC Radio's Maritime Noon on Thursday.

Volunteers with the Association of Psychologists of Nova Scotia will offer people up to three free sessions by phone or video conference between April 5 and May 7.

"We expect that the people who are most directly affected have already been helped or are already getting help, so we're expecting that likely it will be more relevant for those people who are more on the periphery in the community or may be acquainted with or related to more direct victims," Day said.

Twenty-two people died on April 18 and 19. Top row from left: Gina Goulet, Dawn Gulenchyn, Jolene Oliver, Frank Gulenchyn, Sean McLeod, Alanna Jenkins. Second row: John Zahl, Lisa McCully, Joey Webber, Heidi Stevenson, Heather O'Brien and Jamie Blair. Third row from top: Kristen Beaton, Lillian Campbell, Joanne Thomas, Peter Bond, Tom Bagley and Greg Blair. Bottom row: Emily Tuck, Joy Bond, Corrie Ellison and Aaron Tuck. (CBC)

In some ways, dealing with a public tragedy can be more difficult than a personal one, he said.

"It's more dramatic. It's more frightening. It gets much more coverage in the media, and so it seems that much more awful than just a single tragedy," he said.

That can magnify the trauma and anxiety people experience, but Day said there's also the support that comes from knowing others are going through the same thing.

Seeking support during a pandemic

The mass shooting happened at the beginning of the pandemic during a time when people couldn't gather together to mourn like they normally would.

Even now, more than a year into the pandemic, psychologists are limited in the kind of support they can provide, Day said.

"Many people are feeling isolated and not able to contact people or offer support in the best way they can," he said.

Volunteer psychologists from across the province will take part in the virtual sessions beginning Monday.

"They would first be interested in learning how the person has been affected, and how they've been trying to cope, and they will try to offer them some coping strategies they can use to help them feel better or be less affected by it," Day said. 

Psychologists may also refer people to longer term services if needed, Day said.

How to book an appointment

People can call the Association of Psychologists of Nova Scotia at 902-422-9183 between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday to Friday to book an appointment with a psychologist.

The province's Mental Health Crisis Line is also available 24/7 at 1-888-429-8167. Nova Scotia Health's online mental health services can be accessed here.

People can contact the Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 any time of day. There's also a distress line available across the country at 1-833-456-4566.

With files from CBC Radio's Maritime Noon