A flurry of media attention had focussed the province and even the nation on Fort St. James last week.
Unfortunately, not for very positive reasons.
The recent announcement of further charges brought against local Cody Alan Legebokoff, involving four murdered women has put Fort St. James into a tailspin, where a closely-knit community must struggle to understand the charges amidst the ensuing media frenzy.
There have been countless articles detailing what is known about the alleged crimes, some trying to piece together aspects of the lives of the accused and the victims themselves.
The acting mayor has been in an article in the Globe and Mail, and was interviewed on CBC Radio, the superintendent of the school district spoke of the accused in the same Globe and Mail article. Television news crews were in town speaking to anyone they could about the accused.
The stress of these charges can be a source of anxiety or stress for a small community.
“Definitely there’s going to be some issues around trust,” said Dr. Lyne Piche, a registered psychologist and member of the British Columbia Psychological Association.
“That’s where … accusations like this can really impact a community, particularly a small community where people feel like they know (people).”
“When you’re surprised by something like this It can definitely shake people’s sense of trust and understanding of how their world is constructed,” said Piche.
Her comments were echoed as well by Louise Evans-Salt, a local retired mental health professional, who also warned against trying too hard to make sense of the events.
Piche also warned against dwelling on the unknowns, and focusing too closely on what is in the media or rumours circulating amongst people.
“I think it can be really destructive to focus on what we think we know based on accusations and allegations,” said Piche. “The more the community can pull together and support each other, the healthier people will be at the end of this.”
Rumours may be an extension of natural human curiosity, but she also cautioned against getting caught up in rumours or seeking them out, as this can be unhealthy and potentially destructive to those closest to the accused.
While people may need to work to regain their sense of trust, she cautions against letting it develop into a sense of fear, which would be destructive.
The media attention itself can also be a source of stress within the community and amongst those closest to the accused.
“I would encourage people to just remember that this will pass and the attention the town is getting currently is not something that will continue necessarily forever,” said Piche.
The replaying of images in the media can also put people at risk for a complicated grief process or even a re-traumatization according to Evans-Salt, and it can be very important for people to have somewhere to go to safely talk about these things if they need to.
“If you are feeling troubled and it’s not going away, find someone, a professional, to talk to to help you,” said Evans-Salt.
People within the community also need to remember the attention being given to the community doesn’t identify them particularly.
While Pinche said it may be healthy for someone feeling overwhelmed by the media attention to take a break from it for awhile, she warns total avoidance could turn into an unhealthy pattern as well.
She also said it is key to try and maintain a healthy life balance in such a stressful time, making sure you get proper rest, physical activity and spending enough time with friends and family to prevent getting too absorbed by the one event.
“We so quickly want to go to a place of judging or blaming or finding a reason and sometimes there isn’t a reason that’s understandable,” said Evans-Salt.
Emotional or physical symptoms people can look out for are feelings of anxiety or vulnerability, re-occuring images, trouble sleeping or general uncontrolled emotions may be signs a person should seek out some help. Physical symptoms can also manifest themselves, such as headaches.
The Northern BC Crisis Suicide Line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at: 1-888-562-1214 and there is also a youth line at: 1-888-564-8336. Local counseling and crisis support is available by calling 250-996-8411.