A Christchurch psychiatrist will be launching a new mental health support research model for young people who have experienced trauma.

Dr Katherine Donovan and her team will offer a group support programme next year to teenagers and their whānau who were impacted by the March 15 2019 mosque attacks – thanks to a $109,985 grant from the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation which made this project possible.

On 15 March 2019, two mosques in Christchurch were targeted in an act of terrorism. This had widespread repercussions in the Muslim and wider community in Christchurch and New Zealand.

Although local community and health board supports were established for young people to access, the team noted that fewer people came forward than were expected. This prompted Dr Shaystah Dean (Clinical Psychologist) and Dr Donovan to work on an alternative model of support.

“We noticed that people weren’t accessing support through the public health system and DHB systems, and even some of the NGOs were expecting more response from the community,” Dr Donovan says.

“We were hearing that a lot of young people were really struggling, and that there was a stigma about coming forward if you were a survivor, or if you felt that you weren’t impacted as much as someone else.”

In February next year they plan to launch a research model that integrates well-evidenced well-being strategies with components of Islamic psychology.

Dr Donovan says an interesting thing about this study will be to see the impact the wellbeing strategies have on teenagers and how that may benefit parental wellbeing in return.

“It will be interesting to see if their parents feel any less distressed as well,” she says.

Dr Donovan’s study invites any young person who has been affected by the March 19 terror attacks to participate, whether they have lost a family member, are a part of the Muslim community, or have been impacted in any way by what occurred.

She says the project has been driven by feedback from the local community and has been ‘from the ground up’ since the beginning.

“We recognised that most strategies are set up without input from the community, and approaches like that don’t work. We hope our project will make a difference from a grass roots level.”

Dr Donovan says she and her team feel honoured to have received this grant to progress their research forward.

“We feel really lucky to have received this grant. It’s amazing that Canterbury Medical Research Foundation are able to support emerging researchers at the early stages of their careers.”

If successful, Dr Donovan hopes a model like this could be used in the future to help communities trying to set up trauma support.

Dr Donovan is currently a Senior Lecturer at University of Otago and has held numerous medical and psychological positions in New Zealand and beyond.

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