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The Big Story: The people, the community, the city. How tragedy impacts it all

A police officer escorts a civilian away from the scene of a mass casualty incident in Toronto on Sunday, July 22, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

When tragedy strikes, the inevitable wave of trauma that follows is not far behind. It crashes into victims, upends lives, and can permanently impact communities.

How does an event like the recent mass shooting in Toronto change the perspective people have of their city? Do they retreat from their everyday lives? Or do they rally together in strength and make change?

In today’s “Big Story” podcast, University of Toronto psychology professor Steve Joordens breaks down the levels of trauma we experience following these types of events.

“How many people felt, suddenly, that their lives were at risk? That’s the real factor that kind of kicks this all up. I like to compare it to, for example, the cave rescue [in Thailand]. Those boys, it probably gradually dawned on them that their lives were at risk — over a very long period of time — versus a situation where suddenly shots rang out and suddenly, you feel, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m in danger.’ That’s when the brain kicks in these systems.”

He says one of those systems is commonly known as “fight or flight.”

“In a case like Sunday night, it would probably, for most people, be ‘flight.’ But every now and then, we see someone take on an assailant,” he explains.

“The other thing the brain does… it recalls the events or the stimuli that were apparent just before the attack and it connects those to that feeling that we’re having. It’s doing that to try to make us better predictors of danger in the future,” he tells us.

You can hear the full episode and subscribe to The Big Story podcast on iTunes or Google Play.

You can also hear it online at thebigstorypodcast.ca.