The Preferred Response to those Experiencing
an Act of Terrorism or Mass Violence

October 25, 2007
4:30 p.m.

Delta Markham
50 East Valhalla Drive
Markham, ON  L3R 0A3

Please invite your Board Members to attend and join us for the Networking Dinner to follow that evening.

October 25, 2007
10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Delta Markham
50 East Valhalla Drive
Markham, ON  L3R 0A3

Registration information available on the website week of September 5, 2007.

October 26, 2007

8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Program includes:

Internet Child Explotation (ICE) Counselling Program-program manager

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-staff of the PTSD Clinic, McMaster University

Borderline Personality Disorder-staff of the BPD Clinic,  CAMH, Toronto

Learn with Laughter
-a light-hearted end to the day, Trina Hasenclever, humorist

Delta Markham
50 East Valhalla Drive
Markham, ON  L3R 0A3

Program details and Registration information available on the website week of September 5, 2007. 


The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services publishes a FIELD GUIDE intended for a variety of service providers who help survivors and families during the aftermath of mass violence and terrorism. The Guide provides the basics of responding to those in crisis and helping restore their dignity and sense of control by interacting with sensitivity, kindness and respect.

Law enforcement and the criminal justice system are always involved in disasters caused by mass violence and acts of terrorism since these are also crimes.  This adds an additional element to consider when providing compassionate and supportive assistance.

Seasoned crime victim assistance and disaster mental health professions are aware of these key principles:

  • No one who witnesses the consequences of mass criminal violence is unaffected by it.
  • Mass violence and terrorism result in two types of human impact – individual and community.
  • Mental health, crime victim assistance and other human services must be uniquely and individually tailored to the communities they serve.  Cultural competence is essential.
  • While most traumatic stress and grief reactions are normal responses to extraordinary circumstances, as significant minority of survivors experience serious, long-tern psychological difficulties.
  • Most survivors and families respond to active, genuine interest and concern.  However, some will reject services of all kinds.
  • Mental health assistance must be practical, flexible, empowering and respectful of survivors’ needs to pace their exposure to harsh realities resulting from the event.  First and foremost, providers must do no harm when intervening.
  • Support from family, friends, and the community helps survivors and families cope with trauma and loss. 

Distress Centres in Ontario has been at the forefront of providing compassionate support to individuals in distress or crisis for many years.  The psychological first aid and supporting skills that the FIELD GUIDE suggests mirror many of the values and practices of our organizations and volunteers.

It suggests that workers should approach survivors and family members with compassion and regard for their humanity and dignity, including honouring families’ and survivors’ wishes to be left alone or deal privately with their suffering.

Workers enhance survivors’ sense of control over their situation through recognizing and reinforcing their coping strengths, providing clear information, and offering choices when appropriate.  When survivors feel more secure and in control, they can better address immediate challenges.  Crisis support involves guiding, listening, reassuring, and providing practical assistance. 

Establishing rapport is crucial, and all such attempts must convey genuine interest and concern and a calm response.  Providing comfort, support and non-judgemental response to expressed immediate needs is important. Trust and safety are enhanced by listening to what distressed survivors and family members choose to discuss and avoiding asking intrusive questions.

Active Listening is the practice recommended in these situations.  Specifically, they suggest these tips for effective listening:
Support personal pacing
Allow silence.
Attend nonverbally
Reflect feelings
Allow expressions of emotions

The Possible Do’s and Don’t reflect the suggestions that distress line volunteers receive in their training.  Supporters are also cautioned against a desire to try to ‘fix’ the survivor’s or family member’s painful situation or to make them feel better.  They should allow survivors and families the space for their own experiences, feelings and perspectives – whatever they are.

Reprinted from:
Mental Health Response to Mass Violence and Terrorism – A FIELD GUIDE
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Center for Mental Health Services, 2005


Possible Do’s and Definite Don’ts


√  You have temporarily   lost your sense of safety  and security.  You will feel better over time.

√  It is understandable     that you feel this way.

√  This is your body’s and  mind’s way of dealing with what has happened  to you.  Your reactions are normal.

√  Feeling intense emotions and having thoughts that you have never had before is normal. 

√  You are not going

√  You didn’t do anything wrong.  It wasn’t your fault.  You did the best you could.

√  Things will never be the same as they were, but you will gradually feel better.


≠  It could have been worse.  You’re lucky that….

≠  It’s best if you just stay busy.

≠  You should count your blessings, it will make you feel better.

≠  I know just how you feel.

≠  He/she is in a better place now.

≠  You need to get on with your life.


An innovative addition to the resources for people in emotional distress

Distress Centres in Ontario were originally based on the befriending style of listening practiced by the Befrienders and Samaritans in the U.K.  Those organizations continue to be strong resources in the British Isles, Europe and in South Eastern Countries.  Recently, many of their member organizations have added SMS text messaging to their offerings of electronic services to people in emotional distress. 

Their website, contains self-help sections on topics such as depression, helping a suicidal friend or relative, warning signs of suicide and more.  These sections are presented in 22 languages including Arabic, Chinese, German, Hindi and Finnish.  Polish and Lithuanian were recently added, since according to their research Eastern Europe has some of the world’s worst suicide rates. 

They recently published their statistics from the website and around 80,000 to 100,000 people use the website each month.  Their highest usage month was November 2006 with over 200,000 hits.  Their most popular non-English section usage included Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Finnish, French, Dutch, German, Portuguese and Arabic.  92% of website visitors used Google as their search engine, followed by MSM at 3.5% and Yahoo at 2.9%. 

Considering the significant resources in North America, where known, the origin of 35% of their users was the USA, followed by Japan (26.2%).  Over 50% of their users were from North America, with only 0.6% from Africa. 

The use of SMS, text messaging has been a service that the Samaritans have been pioneering for over a year.  In April 2007 they received 11,302 text messages bringing their total messages to 156,000 texts from over 3,949 unique callers.  In reviewing this service they note that text exchanges are fast, direct and to the point.  For a variety of reasons including the limited number of characters or perhaps the anonymity of writing from a mobile phone, people “very quickly get to the heart of the matter”.  Most of those who establish contact via text “rapidly and bluntly disclose their feelings about their situation”.  Their volunteers are also reporting that the proportion of suicidal callers appears higher than on the telephones. 

This method of delivering service is still in its infancy and there are improvements that need to be considered.  The providers are working hard to achieve consistently low waiting times so that callers will receive a quality response quickly.  While young people consider a response within 10 minutes a good response time, the average response time at present is under 90 minutes.  Some of the issues affecting the response time include availability of volunteers to response on line, and volunteers may be busy responding on the telephone.  

The pilot leaders are very concerned with insuring that they do not sacrifice quality or control while they engage in building a robust and reliable system.  This appears to be an emergent and intriguing method of providing support to those in emotional distress.  More detailed information on the U.K. pilot will be available at the Networking Day for DCO member centres in late October.  

As one Samaritan volunteer said at their 2006 conference; “Looking at the texts coming in, it is wrong to say that young people don’t talk about their problems.  They do, we just haven’t been listening in the right way.” 

Reprinted from:
Samaritans (UK & ROI) and Befrienders Worldwide – Annual Report, March 2007 Samaritan News, June 2007

 Looking Beyond Our Difficulties
By: Greg Krech

Periodically we find ourselves in very challenging circumstances.
We lose our jobs, get sick, experience the death of a love one, or end a long-term relationship.
We become  immersed in our own pain,  and our minds notice all the disappointing elements of our lives.

Our attention seems to become trapped within the limited boundaries of our suffering.
But there is more to life than we are seeing.
As we expand our view of life we may find that even within the context of our suffering, compassion, care, and support are our close companions.
When we reflect upon such circumstances, we see it is often due to the support of others that we were able to resolve or recover from our problem.
But how often do we make room for gratitude in the midst of our suffering? Even in the aftermath of recovery from a serious illness or resolution of an important problem, how much energy goes to thanking and repaying those people who, and things that, supported us during our time of need?

When we expand the boundaries of our attention we see a larger, more truthful picture of life. 
A life that is continuing to support us throughout our difficult moments.
A life that is actually helping us to deal with our difficulties.

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Distress Centres Ontario (DCO)
700 Lawrence Avenue West
Suite 475 A
Toronto, Ontario M6A 3B4
Phone: (416) 486-2242

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