As Penticton begins to mourn after a shooting spree that killed four in an otherwise peaceful community, experts say the grieving process could take weeks or even years.
Jana Abetkoff, a director with the Mental Health and Substance Use Services through Interior Health, told Black Press Media in a phone interview Tuesday the process is unique to each individual and can impact residents far and wide when their community is faced with tragedy.
On Monday, four people were gunned down in a mid-day shooting. A 68-year-old former city employee has been charged but police have yet to detail motive or any circumstances that could have led to such an incident.
As the names of the four victims, two men and two women, trickle in from friends and family, Abetkoff said taking the time to feel emotions is a key step in processing the situation.
This can include emotional outbursts, difficulty relaxing, hyper vigilance or withdrawing, as well as physical symptoms such as exhaustion or nausea. Feeling anger, guilt and sadness are also common.
“It’s important for people to be patient with themselves and with others and to honour the feelings and reactions people are having through this very difficult time, and give themselves permission to go through this process,” she explained.
“They could feel okay, and then find out they’re not doing so well, and then bounce back a little bit,” she said, because “the process of recovering from grief and loss is not always linear but can be up and down.”
Community support, shown through vigils or fundraisers for the victim’s families, are ways that can both honour their memories and make space for collective healing.
“Any ways in which people can come together to share their experience, lend support to one another and help to normalize things so they aren’t feeling like they are the only ones that are reacting can all be things that are helpful to the community and to individuals,” Abetkoff said.
She added that as people navigate through rumours that have not been confirmed by police, they should be mindful of how much exposure they’re getting to social media and constant news – factors that can increase distress, for adults but especially children.
“Really keep an eye on how much exposure they have to the event, whether it’s a recognized and valid news source or social media where people are coming about their own ideas,” she said.
Ways to manage their distress and emotions
Through the coming days and weeks, Abetkoff recommended that anyone feeling impacted find trusted people who they can share their feelings with, avoid isolation and watch for personal symptoms as well as symptoms in others.
“Try to keep a balanced viewpoint,” she added, “as these events are extremely rare and, though they are very disrupting and impactful, try to keep in mind of meaningful and comforting events. Doing this can keep perspective on the world.”
Most importantly, Interior Health offers a number of services available to those feeling a great amount of distress, including crisis lines through Interior Health, the provincial crisis centre and the First Nations Health Authority.