Many students and staff members at Dawson College who lived through the shooting at the school three years ago are still struggling to heal from their psychological scars, according to a major research study.

The study was conducted by a team of researchers from the Centre de recherche Fernand-Seguin at Hopital Louis-H. Lafontaine and the Research Centre of the McGill University Health Centre, with funding from the Quebec government.

The preliminary findings from the study will be presented at the 31st International Congress of Law and Mental Health in New York, on Tuesday.

Eighteen-year-old student Anastasia DeSousa was killed and 20 others were injured on Sept. 13, 2006, after Kimveer Gill stormed into the school and began spraying bullets.

In a standoff with police, Gill killed himself after the rampage.

The findings

Of the 10,000 students and staff at Dawson, 949 - just under 10 percent - completed the survey.

Findings from the study include:

  • 2% of respondents were diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after the shooting
  • 7% reported suffering from symptoms consistent with PTSD
  • 12% suffered from severe depression
  • 6% considered suicide
  • 80 % of those who received care reported that they were satisfied with the services provided

Dr. Warren Steiner, head of the psychiatry department at the McGill University Health Centre, helped organize the psychological intervention plan to help staff and students cope with the trauma after the Dawson shooting.

A variety of mental health services were offered on campus in the days following the shooting, and free counselling from the team at the MUCH was offered to students in the months after.

Steiner said it was important to conduct a postmortem study on the strategy, because the shooting at Dawson can offer important lessons to psychologists.

"Since the 1999 Columbine tragedy, school shootings have doubled (to 60) compared to the last decade, resulting in 181 deaths. Despite the frequency of these incidents, there are very few empirical studies on their psychological effect and no studies have evaluated the effectiveness of psychological interventions," said Steiner.

Some students uncomfortable seeking help

Alain Lesage, both a member of the research team that conducted the study and a psychiatry professor at the Universite de Montreal, said the survey found some students in need of counselling were reluctant to come forward and ask for help.

"People were disinclined to seek help because of prejudices related to mental illness, fear of showing weakness or appearing vulnerable to one's boss and the false perception that time would solve everything," said Lesage.