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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 15 August, 2000, 14:00 GMT 15:00 UK
Ongoing pain of Omagh victims
Omagh bomb scene
Omagh blast relatives still counting cost


By BBC NI's Chris Capper

Two years after the explosion which took the lives of 29 people and two unborn children, Omagh is still having to deal with the long-term effects on the community.

There is concern about the effect of the bombing on the young - several suicides of young men have been blamed by their families and friends on the continuing influence of the explosion.

A survey of more than 4,000 children in the Omagh area has revealed that many are still suffering distress and are not seeking help.

It is the first time in the history of the Troubles that the effect on children of a major incident has been investigated.


You don't want to talk about it. It's just something you keep to yourself...you might tell some people who are close to you

Robert Graham
Those who had been injured were most affected by terms of trauma and depression.

Nearly half of all the children and adolescents surveyed had a family member or friend injured - more than one in five had a family member or friend killed.

These groups also had high levels of distress, as did those adolescents who were in Omagh at the time of the explosion.

In the town's Cyber Café, set up for young people, Robert Graham described how he and a friend were asked by the police to direct people away from the scene.

"We saw some things that you really wouldn't want to talk about," he said.

"You don't want to talk about it. It's just something you keep to yourself...you might tell some people who are close to you."

His friend Darren O'Kane agreed: "You chat about it among your friends...your friends are the only ones who know what you think."

The children's survey found that one in three adolescents in Omagh still have distressing memories - a third try hard to control their feelings, and a third try hard to push the feelings of the bomb out of their mind.


You get over it yourself if you're strong enough

Robert Graham
That concerns the Sperrins & Lakeland Trust which carried out the study - suppressing thoughts and feelings is likely to maintain, rather than reduce post traumatic stress.

David Bolton, the trust's director of community care, said "We knew instinctively there were children out there who were struggling and who were greatly distressed, but we had no way of knowing how many youngsters were greatly distressed."

The trust now hopes more children will come forward for help. But at the Cyber Café, there is a reluctance about counselling.

"You get over it yourself if you're strong enough," said Robert Graham, who added that whenever he's presented with a questionnaire about the bombing he wants to lie about being in the town at the time of the explosion, because it always leads to offers of "counselling".

Psychiatrist Delia McGuinness, who specialises in children and adolescents, said they are not as resilient as people might think.

She has seen children of all ages who are having difficulties at school, who cannot go back into the centre of Omagh, who have stopped going out with their friends and even some who have become depressed and withdrawn.

Doctor McGuinness says the remedy for many children can be quite simple - just giving them a chance to talk about their experiences can relieve a lot of the symptoms.

Younger children have more difficulty expressing their distress. In the Omagh Trauma Centre, the art room contains pictures drawn by young children.

One little girl whose sibling was injured in the attack drew a picture of a small figure surrounded and obscured by a chaos of scribbles.

She drew her house surrounded by a thick black line which the sun could not penetrate.

David Bolton said young children rely on parents, teachers and other adults to recognise their distress and help them.

The symptoms parents should watch out for are any change in normal behaviour, including sleeplessness and nightmares, withdrawal, "acting up", increased or different drinking habits among adolescents, or poor performance at school.

See also:

21 Apr 00 | N Ireland
26 Jun 00 | N Ireland
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13 Apr 00 | N Ireland
15 Feb 00 | N Ireland
13 Mar 00 | N Ireland
16 Aug 98 | Latest News
18 Mar 99 | Focus
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