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N.S. sets up help lines for citizens struggling amid mass shooting, pandemic

HALIFAX — The Nova Scotia government has activated a roster of psychologists to help address the mental health challenges facing the province's weary population.
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HALIFAX — The Nova Scotia government has activated a roster of psychologists to help address the mental health challenges facing the province's weary population.

In a release Tuesday, the Nova Scotia Health Authority says people can call in to a free service set up by the Association of Psychologists of Nova Scotia to talk about their distress over the recent mass shooting that left 22 people dead.

The agency is opening a special phone line as of Wednesday to allow Nova Scotians to talk about their difficulties and ways of coping with the tragedy amid the COVID-19 shutdown.

Many residents of the province already appeared to be struggling with stress prior to the shootings.

In a national survey conducted before the killings, the Angus Reid Institute noted that of 53 Nova Scotians included, more than half said "worry" was the best word to describe the emotion they're feeling the most.

Dean Perry, a clinical psychologist at St. Martha's Regional Hospital in Antigonish, said more than 50 psychologists will be available to provide assistance through the service set up by his association's post-disaster committee. 

He said the hope is that people who are in need of immediate help access the service, and people could be referred for further care following an initial call if needed.

"The design (of the service) is to have people who are affected by the tragedy to be stabilized and to have their immediate needs and concerns looked at," Perry said.

People who knew those killed in the shooting say it has been difficult to cope with the loss, particularly in isolation.

Jane Andrews, whose distant cousin Joey Webber was murdered by Gabriel Wortman on Sunday in Shubenacadie, said the shooting has intensified anxious emotions that were already present due to the provincial shutdown.

Even prior to the shooting, the 65-year-old retiree said she often felt exhausted, although she hadn't been physically active, and had periods of uncontrolled crying.

"Then came this horrendous massacre in our province. This was my breaking point. I screamed, I ranted, I raged. I looked up and challenged God: 'Why? When will enough be enough? If you’re testing me, God, I've failed,'" said the resident of Hubbards.

For other victims' relatives, emotions are ranging widely as they go through grief and shock, with some calling for more information about what occurred.

On Monday, the widower of continuing care assistant Kristen Beaton — killed on her way to work — called for the province to make a formal commitment to a full public inquiry, saying relatives need more answers than a police investigation will provide.

"There definitely needs to be an inquiry, no mistakes about it," Nick Beaton said in an interview.

Alec Gratto, the younger brother of Jamie Blair — a mother of two young boys killed along with her husband Greg Blair at their home in Portapique — said he is aware of the kind of mental distress Nova Scotians are feeling and urged people to seek help.

"I went through mental health (services) years ago, and it was beneficial. Just make a phone call ... and start talking," he said in an interview.

The health authority said in its release that anyone can call 902-422-9183, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday to Friday, to arrange a support session with a psychologist within 48 hours.

Psychologists will offer their expertise, free of charge, via on-line video conference or by telephone, due to COVID-19 restrictions.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 28, 2020.

Also on the web:

The province's online mental health services are available at the following link: https://www.nshealth.ca/content/online-mental-health-services

Michael Tutton , The Canadian Press

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