Horrifying memories of APS attack impede survivors’ studies

Published December 16, 2015
Children participate in a candlelight vigil at Peshawar Press Club on the eve of first anniversary of APS tragedy. — Photo by Shahbaz Butt
Children participate in a candlelight vigil at Peshawar Press Club on the eve of first anniversary of APS tragedy. — Photo by Shahbaz Butt

PESHAWAR: After one year of the horrific attack on the Army Public School (APS), Peshawar, many surviving students find it hard to concentrate on their coursework as the gory incident keeps flashing back in their minds to distract them from studies.

Several survivors, who are now enrolled in different colleges after graduating from the APS, still feel traumatised. They told Dawn that they were not satisfied with their academic performance as much as they used to be before the Dec 16, 2014 attack.

They said that their capacity to pick lecture in classrooms and understand a topic through book reading had lowered alarmingly after witnessing the bloodbath on that fateful day.

Attack victims need regular, prolonged counselling, says a psychiatrist

“I get frightened whenever someone speaks loudly or walks in a hurry,” says Amir Ameen, one of the survivors. Though the bullet wound on his left arm has healed, the gory incident left a deep scar on Amir’s life with problems he is still struggling to overcome.

Mr Amir told Dawn that after losing his friend-like brother Ishaq Ameen he was missing him at every moment of life as they would play together, enjoy the picnic places, and study and sleep in the same room of their house.

“When I turn off the light and go to sleep, the entire episode of APS attack recycles in my mind,” said Mr Amir, who is now a student of Mechanical Engineering in Sarhad University, Peshawar. Sometimes, he also hears those deafening blasts in dream.

He says he feel relieved from the trauma during daytime for being busy in the university and with his friends. But while sitting alone, Mr Amir says he remembers his brother and rest of the classmates who lost their lives in the militant attack.

Vowing to continue his education, he said that time of death was fixed and no one could escape that moment when it would come.

Maaz Irfan, another survivor, is still going through trauma amid continuous surgeries of his left elbow. “So far, I have gone through four major and several minor surgeries, but despite that my elbow is not folding,” said Maaz, who is now a student of Islamia College.

Another major surgery would be conducted on Dec 20 in Lahore, he said. “My mother, who is a psychiatrist, says that the horrifying memories linked with the terrorist attack on APS will fade away gradually,” he said.

“I get panicked whenever I hear gunshots. Even a cracker blast by children in marriage ceremonies frightens me,” he said, while sharing his experiences in routine life. Maaz said that he couldn’t focus fully while reading a book.

“A psychiatrist has been examining me every week, but still I avoid going to noisy places like bazaars, functions, etc,” said Malik Tahir Awan. “I have lost nine friends, all 10th graders. I cannot forget them,” he said.

Muneebullah Shah, one of the survivors, told Dawn that impact of the trauma was very high in the initial days, which had reduced to some extent.

The normal grief on the death of a near and dear one depends on the age of the deceased person, nature of death, whether natural or unnatural, sudden or after a prolonged disease and on the emotional bonds of the family members of the deceased, said Dr Mian Iftikhar Hussain, when asked about the trauma among the survivors.

Dr Hussain, a known psychiatrist and psychotherapist, said that in case of a normal death the grief prolonged from three to six months. The grief of the victims and survivors of the APS attack will prolong from a minimum of one year to many years because of the unnatural, unexpected death due to a catastrophic incident, he said.

The victims and survivors of the APS massacre need regular and prolonged counselling sessions, he said, adding the joint counselling sessions of the parents and survivors were also needed for a prolonged period where they could share their grief and lessen their miseries.

All these counselling services need to be provided by the government by involving psychiatrists and clinical psychologists. The parents and survivors of the incident need to be facilitated to come out of this grief smoothly, Dr Hussain suggested.

They need to be helped out to come to terms with the loss as soon as possible and enabled to continue their life ahead without weeping constantly on their wounds, he said. These wounds of great loss need to be healed as soon as possible though the scars will remain.

The grief of the parents and survivors need to be redirected to purposeful, welfare activities that could bring them satisfaction, he said, adding that regular recreational activities might be provided to them to facilitate this process.

He mentioned that after one year to the incident the parents and the survivors were still passing through the grief and holding portraits of the victims. “In my opinion the required counselling services have not been provided. Access by psychiatric and psychological service providers to the survivors and parents of the APS students has been restricted for unknown reasons,” he said.

Both fathers and mothers of the victims have been passing through miseries and prolonged grief, but in Dr Hussain’s opinion the grief of the mothers was more than the fathers because of the greater biological, physiological and psychological bonds.

The mothers are restricted to their homes and relatives in our culture, so they find fewer opportunities than fathers to express their emotions and vent their grief.

The parents are not satisfied with the probe into the APS attack, as details about the incident have not been shared with them. So, this illusion about the APS incident, why and how it happened will also be a significant factor in prolonging the grief of the parents and survivors, he said.

Published in Dawn, December 16th, 2015



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