Bee-yond the emergency: Lessons from Manchester Arena on better support for young survivors
Marking the sixth anniversary of the Manchester Arena attack, the Bee The Difference report is a unique research project designed by and for young Manchester survivors in collaboration with UK disaster response charity and NPC Partner, the National Emergencies Trust, and researchers at Lancaster University. Find it at www.nationalemergenciestrust.org.uk/beethedifference
More than 200 young survivors took part in the Bee The Difference research, all of whom were under 18 at the time of the attack. They share experiences of the support they have received since it happened to identify what help will be most beneficial to future young survivors of terror.
Three quarters (75%) of children and young people affected by the 2017 Manchester Arena attack were psychologically injured by what happened to them, but more than one in four (29%) have never received any professional support in the six years since. Four in ten (40%) of these say it was never offered to them.
Their stories show that while some of the professional help offered by teachers, counsellors, GPs and others was incredibly valuable, some of it inadvertently introduced more trauma. In particular, some young people felt their experiences were not validated by adults in positions of care, and that their feelings and opinions were dismissed on account of their age. Survivors said:
“The tutor told me that I should take the attack as a positive experience- that this ‘hardship’ would make me a stronger person. He said not many young people experience hardships nowadays. This felt totally insensitive so I didn’t return.”
“… when I asked for help they brushed me off and put it down to just teenage hormones. To then just put me on antidepressants and that was only at 18 and didn’t even think of referring me to a therapist.”
“I poured my heart out to this random GP who totally dismissed everything I expressed […] she said I was coping better than she would have been because I was 15 and in the two years it would have taken for her to get me into CAMHS I would then be 17 and probably feeling a lot better at that point.”
Conversely, the report points to some examples of incredible pastoral care in schools where individuals went above and beyond to support young survivors’ new needs. It also highlights the value of care provided by trauma-experienced individuals, including specialist trauma counsellors, as well as fellow survivors.
“My teacher was there for me when I needed to sit out of lessons or talk about what had affected me that day. It was good because she was there for another 2 years of my time at school so acted as a constant support that was semi-permanent rather than a specialist that I could only see once or twice.”
“For the first time I met other survivors, and there was a sort of subliminal understanding – I didn’t even have to say what happened to me at Manchester, but I was still greeted with open arms into a new, wonderful, kind safe space, where I was listened to and accepted for who I was.”
The Bee The Difference report proposes six ways that individuals and institutions across the UK could improve outcomes for future young survivors of terror:
- Bee visible – Ensure support is visible and readily available the onus is not on survivors to find it
- Bee compassionate – Listen to, validate and take proactive steps to accommodate young survivors’ new needs
- Bee experienced – Make sure that specialised trauma support is accessible and readily available, wherever survivors are based
- Be flexible – Empower young survivors to choose the right support for them
- Be patient – Remember that recovery isn’t linear and can take time
- Be proactive – Act on young survivors’ experiences to turn their challenges into future change
The UK Government is expected to finalise the draft of a ‘Survivor’s Charter’ in the next few weeks that would guarantee key rights for survivors of terror attacks and is expected to include a guaranteed timeline for mental health support for victims of attacks. In the coming months, the Bee The Difference project team aims to meet with representatives from government, education, healthcare and the charity sector to discuss ways to act on the research findings.
Mhairi Sharp, CEO, National Emergencies Trust, said:“There has been a glaring gap in knowledge about how UK disasters affect children and young people. Bee The Difference offers valuable direction for emergency funders like us and means we can build on the good work that the We Love Manchester fund started in 2017. We can raise awareness with our partners so that there is less onus on future survivors to seek out support. We can also offer funding to those who would like to set up peer support groups.”