Traumatic event at school can cause 'ripple effect': Experts
As support measures are put in place at RVHS, they warn recent tragedy can also affect students elsewhere
The Education Ministry (MOE) has put in place support measures to help students and staff of River Valley High School (RVHS) after the tragic death of one of its students on Monday.
Experts applauded the quick response, with psychologist Frances Yeo telling The New Paper: "Providing trauma-focused support immediately after the traumatic event is crucial in helping students cope."
She noted that for some students, reactions to trauma may not happen immediately so continued support days and weeks later is equally important.
Ms Yeo also said students in other schools could be affected by the incident.
A few of her student-patients who are not from RVHS have shared their concerns about going to school, she explained: "This is called secondary trauma. It is when trauma is developed due to indirect exposure to the traumatic event."
On Tuesday, a Secondary 4 student from RVHS was charged with murder in a district court. He cannot be named as he is under 18.
In a statement on Monday, the police said officers found a 13-year-old boy motionless on the toilet floor in the school with multiple wounds. An axe was seized as evidence.
The 16-year-old accused will be remanded for psychiatric observation and is slated to be back in court on Aug 10.
While it is natural for students and staff from RVHS to feel anxious and even fearful after such a tragic incident, Mr John Shepherd Lim, chief well-being officer of Singapore Counselling Centre, said it could have a "ripple effect".
"A traumatic event causes a ripple effect that can traumatise others beyond the community where the event happened.
"For example, other students might identify with the traumatised group or victim, and thus be adversely affected upon hearing such sad news," he said.
Speaking to the media yesterday, director-general of education Wong Siew Hoong said RVHS, along with support from MOE headquarters, has been proactively reaching out to affected staff and students to offer assistance.
MOE specialists and school counsellors, who are trained in psychological first aid and trauma management, were at the school on Tuesday and will continue to be stationed there, he added.
"A room has also been set up in the school since yesterday to help affected staff, students and parents who can walk in for support and will be open throughout the whole of this week," said Mr Wong.
He added that 97 per cent of RVHS students returned to school yesterday following the public holiday on Tuesday.
"(This) is similar to the regular attendance on any given school day. This is the resilience of our students and we are proud of them," said Mr Wong.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged those who know of a student or classmate who seems troubled to let the principal or school counsellors know.
"They will work together with the families to provide help," he said.
In a message sent on Tuesday evening to all educators, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said the safety of schools would be safeguarded, and no effort would be spared to support staff and students during this period.
"We will mobilise all our counselling capacities to support all who need help," he added.
Dr Annabelle Chow, principal clinical psychologist at Annabelle Psychology, said some warning signs that parents can look out for in their children are mood swings, increased irritability and the act of repeatedly talking about the incident.
"Some might also exhibit marked alterations in behaviours such as angry outbursts, reckless or self-destructive behaviours, hypervigilance, problems with concentration, or sleep disturbances," Dr Annabelle added.
She suggested a three-R approach for parents to help their children cope with trauma.
1. Regulate their own emotions before soothing and regulating the emotions of the child.
2. Relate and connect with the child.
3. Reason with the child by helping him or her make sense of the experience and to correct any unhealthy cognitions he or she may have developed.
"It is important for parents to give children a non-judgmental safe space to talk about how they feel. Validating their feelings is necessary and healthier than sweeping it under the carpet," said Dr Annabelle.
FOR MORE READ THE STRAITS TIMES
National Care Hotline: 1800-202-6868
Institute of Mental Health's Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222
Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444
TOUCHline (counselling): 1800-377-2252
Care Corner Counselling Centre: 1800-353-5800
Annabelle Psychology (free for all RVHS staff and students): www.annabellepsychology.com/appointments