Tragedy is a reality we must face

20th April 2007 at 01:00
The worst shooting rampage in the history of the United States at Virginia Tech university this week left survivors struggling to come to terms with the horror. Reports suggest that many, mostly young students, have already turned to professional counsellors for comfort and support, with images of the massacre still fresh in their minds.

But even when they have recovered from the shock of the ordeal, the emotional scars will remain and for some they will never fade. Some will become depressed, others will feel guilty that they dodged the bullets.

Some will make huge changes to their lives, and others will just be plain angry.

It was with some irony, therefore, that teachers in Wales gathered at a conference this week to help them to deal with pupils suffering significant bereavements - be it of a parent, a best friend or acquaintance (page 1).

Figures reveal that 20,000 children will suffer a bereavement every year in the UK, and it doesn't have to be a close family member. Schools have often been the scene of unimaginable horrors - Beslan, Dunblane and Aberfan to name but a few.

Even the death of a beloved pet can be a traumatic event for a child. At the other extreme, Bridgend County Borough Action is so concerned about pupil suicides that it is drawing up a new policy. The county has had to deal with a spate of school-age suicides. Sadly, the local authority's leading counselling service believes the problem is "getting bigger". But for a nation which likes to sweep all death under the carpet, dealing with the "D-word" is uncharted territory for many teachers. Let's not go there - just like sex education.

So it is heartening to see how Ann Atkin, bereavement support worker for Denbighshire, helped Prestatyn high school pupils last year after the death of 15-year-old Thomas Harland, one of four cyclists killed when a car skidded and spun into a group of 12 riders from Rhyl Cycling Club. Tributes should also be paid to staff at the school for the admirable way they have dealt with their pupils, allowing them time to heal.

For some who knew Thomas well, the grieving process has taken longer. But not every school or teacher is so well trained for such tragedies. They should be.

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