Belfast Telegraph

Teachers' actions at Donegan murder scene are praised by psychiatrist

Praise: Dr Philip McGarry
Praise: Dr Philip McGarry
Brett Campbell

By Brett Campbell

A former chairman of the Royal College of Psychiatrists NI has praised staff at St Mary's Grammar for helping prevent trauma following the shocking murder at the school gates.

Dr Philip McGarry described the instinctive actions of teachers to shield pupils from the horrific scene by placing coats on the victim's car windscreen as "impressive and admirable".

"The teachers did the right thing by preventing the scene becoming something for people to stare at," he said.

The former St Mary's pupil also praised the school for putting "textbook response" measures in place for pupils and staff as the school re-opens today.

The Education Authority's Critical Incident Response Team will be available for anyone affected.

"Only a small number of people will need prolonged therapy, but it's important that everyone is encouraged to share their experience in a safe environment," Dr McGarry said. "However the most important people in these children's lives are going to be friends and family - and of course the large community voluntary sector will play its role."

Dr McGarry said those who have experienced similar trauma and vulnerable people are most at risk of long term harm.

"Parents and teachers should only become concerned if they notice someone starting to become withdrawn," he said.

"It's normal for anyone who saw this to feel distressed and upset, it would be more worrying if they didn't - but they only need to talk about what they want to talk about."

The consultant psychiatrist who has worked with patients in Belfast for 20 years said the fact that such incidents are less common nowadays means they now carry greater impact.

He also warned against embracing the prevailing wisdom of bygone years which he summed up as "whatever you say, say nothing" and encouraged people to talk about what they saw on Tuesday.

"It was common in the 90s for people who had a brother or a father very close to a shooting in the 70s to say they never talked about it," Dr McGarry said. "They often noted that their relatives were never the same, which is also what relatives of soldiers in the world wars say."

He also said it is not unreasonable to speculate about a link between the Troubles and the fact that men aged 35 to 55 are at significant risk of committing suicide here as suppressed trauma can manifest itself in later life.

However, the expert also stressed the importance of resuming normal life.

"It was right for the school to close, but it's also right that it opens again," he added.

Belfast Telegraph


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