Tragedy raises complex questions as community deals with loss

January 11 2017

There is no manual for dealing with the unthinkable. Families and communities in our area are treading unknown territory in the wake of the tragic events of Jan. 3. They are grieving and seeking answers where few are available.

The shooting deaths of four members of the Desmond family has raised awareness and increased discussion around PTSD across Canada. That gives hope that some good could come from such a loss.

Increased pressure is being place upon the Department of Defence to do a better job of helping soldiers transition to civilian life and to treating those who suffer from PTSD. We know that about 15 per cent of those who served in Afghanistan suffer from PTSD. And their families suffer.

PTSD has become a national crisis.

How Lionel Desmond may or may not have been received and treated at St. Martha’s Hospital is also being looked at by the Dept. of Health, following statements by family members that he went there for help the day before the shooting and was turned away. If gaps in local services are identified, they must be addressed.

A week after the deaths of Shanna, Aaliyah, Brenda and Lionel, questions are also being raised about family violence. Some media commentary is questioning the focus on PTSD, arguing that this tragedy needs to be looked at as a case of family violence. And that argument is upsetting to some.

Trevor Bungay, who served with Lionel and suffered from PTSD himself, has become an advocate for better PTSD treatment and support. He also founded a number of treatment centres for veterans and others suffering from PTSD.

Bungay doesn’t take issue with the argument that this tragedy is a case of family violence, but he says it’s family violence that was “100 per cent” caused by PTSD.

Indeed this tragedy is raising complex issues and complicated questions. People want to know how Lionel Desmond was supported during his 10-year-struggle with PTSD and what more could have been done to meet his and his family’s needs. It raises questions about what supports are available for family members when a loved one is struggling with PTSD, or any other type of mental health crisis.

Getting answers will take time and patience. But we need attention on this tragedy to remain strong so the search for answers and solutions continues to be a priority. We need to continue talking about Shanna, Aaliyah, Brenda and Lionel.

And right now, the focus is and must be on remembering and honouring the dead, showing respect and support for the families, and coming together as a community to heal.