Utøya survivors still struggling

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Forty percent of the young Labour Party supporters who survived a massacre at their summer camp on the island of Utøya two years ago are still suffering from flashbacks, anxiety and depression. A new survey shows that 30 percent of the parents of Utøya victims are suffering as well.

The survey, conducted by the Norwegian Centre for Violence and Traumatic Stress Studies, has conducted two rounds of personal interviews with those who were on the island when a lone Norwegian right-wing extremist unleashed the massacre. He shot and killed 69 persons, and wounded and terrified hundreds of others after first bombing Norway’s Labour-led government headquarters in downtown Oslo.

Improvement, but more help needed
The first interviews were conducted around five months after the attacks on July 22, 2011, the second 14-15 months later. In the first round, fully 70 percent of the young survivors were suffering anxiety and depression and 40 percent of the parents. The newer numbers show there’s been improvement, but that many still need help.

“Norway as a nation has a great need to put July 22 behind us,” Grete Dyb, the researcher behind the survey, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “But at the same time, we must not forget that there are many fellow citizens out there who still need us to understand that they’re having difficulties, and that we help them so they can move on.”

Dyb said that people react differently to trauma, but that it’s not unusual that it can take a long time to heal. A fifth of the young survivors show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, down from a fourth a year earlier, while 40 percent still have psychosomatic ailments such as headaches, stomach pain and feelings of despair. Many still suffer flashbacks from the terror of the massacre, their fear, the sight of friends being shot and an inability to help them. Others suffer from a subsequent lack of concentration that has caused problems for their studies or their ability to work.

“That’s the hard reality of being hit by such a traumatic event, that it can have consequences for your life in many areas,” Dyb told NRK.

‘Just fine,’ but plagued
Lisa Marie Husby, a young woman from Orkanger who survived the massacre, told NRK that she can feel “just fine” some days, but depressed and plagued by flashbacks of the violence she witnessed on other days. “I can have flashbacks that last for several minutes, where I just stare straight ahead and don’t even realize I’ve been ‘away,'” Husby said. Difficulty concentrating prompted her to give up her studies, at least for now, but she is holding down a job and still goes to a psychologist.

Like others, her days are better now than they were two years ago, and she worries that others around her don’t want to hear that she still has problems.

“Therefore I mostly just say I’m fine (when asked how she’s doing),” Husby said. “But maybe it’s also good that folks hear that it’s okay not to be fine.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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