An anniversary of a significant and critical event in life is a chance to take stock and reflect, to remember with respect and to grieve again. However for those impacted upon by significant traumatic events, it is also a time when traumatic memories can resurface and a time when we need to be particularly aware of how difficult it can be for those affected.
Around and on May 22nd there will be a series of events held in Manchester to commemorate and mark the suffering, the loss and the resilience of those involved in the awful events of the evening of the 22nd May 2017 at the Manchester Arena. (http://www.manchester.gov.uk/mcrtogether) All the city was touched by what happened on that night and show of strength and unity shown by the people of Greater Manchester in the aftermath was remarkable and inspiring. However in our remembrance we must not forget that many families who lost loved ones that night were not Mancunians and will not necessarily be able to access that resource of community pride and resilience that has supported so many of us living and working in this city. They need our thoughts and prayers to extend far beyond the reaches of Manchester.
The Manchester Resilience Hub, which was set up to meet the needs of those affected following the event, has produced a series of leaflets for schools, professionals and parents/carers which are available via their webpage and contain excellent information about supporting young people and children in school and at home at this potentially difficult time. Copies have been sent out to all schools in Manchester. They reassure all of us that anniversary reactions, such as re-experiencing traumatic memories and symptoms are normal and will pass. https://www.penninecare.nhs.uk/media/496778/anniversary-guidance-for-education-april-2018.pdf
I have worked supporting staff at a Manchester high school to work with a group of girls who attended the arena that night and what has struck me most, is not their worry about how they may feel on the day of the anniversary, but more their desire to do something positive to mark the anniversary and confirm how far they have come in building their strength and resilience since that day. They plan to go with their Head of Year and another member of school staff to visit the Arena on May 22nd and see how far they can manage to walk inside. One of the girls who has been back since to concerts has set a challenge for herself to try and go back to the exact seating area she sat in on that night. Working with the girls and their Head of Year, I was struck by their courage and their determination to progress in their recovery process with each other for support. Their Head of Year commented how strong they were and the girls themselves told me that just meeting as a group and supporting each other using some structured materials to prompt discussion has been the most influential thing in their progress towards recovery.
We know that social support is vital for many people in recovery from trauma and I would urge schools to think about how to harness the power of this natural mechanism but one which young people sometimes need help to access. Research has shown that key in recovery following trauma is having basic human needs met, with two of these being ‘belonging and connection’ (Joseph, S. 2011, p.111) and social support certainly ticks this box. At this school, we ended up having a conversation about trying to set something up between schools or in the local community, where there may not be a natural support group for young people who attended the arena that night, to try and facilitate social support networks. Many people turn to others for support in crisis and part of what we can do in schools is to help facilitate this for those young people affected. It is never too late to start a support group of some kind and these groups can arise out of shared activities such as working together to raise funds for the Warrington Peace Centre, such as with this group of girls. Social support sounds so simple but can be so affective and powerful. It is because it is so natural that it is so affective in schools, as it can fit in and can be facilitated within school without the need for young people to leave their normal daily context.
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Educational Psychologists, writing to schools affected by The Grenville Tower disaster state:
Our task is to try and inspire children’s resiliency and hope, and to help them recover their wholeness.
I couldn’t agree more and we can do this by acknowledging their difficulties alongside a focus on their strengths; how far they have come, what have they achieved since the event and how have they become stronger to face challenges, such as returning to the city centre or returning to the Arena and maybe for some, just returning to school. For those who have not yet been able to do this, they need to know that we know that they will be able to achieve this one day and that movement towards healing and recovery is the natural direction in recovery from trauma, however many years this may take (Joseph, S. 2011).
As those working closely with young people affected I would urge you to use this anniversary time to acknowledge the progress they have made, all they have achieved since, the kindnesses they have shown, the love they have given, the hard work they have done and how they have carried on with life however tough it has felt at times. More than this, use it as a chance to let them know that you remember too and have not forgotten what they went though and how it affected them at the time. Plan to do something as a group to mark their resilience together on this anniversary.
Reference: What Doesn’t Kill Us: The New Psychology of Posttraumatic Growth. S. Joseph PhD. 2011. Basic books. Philadelphia.