“Ribnikar” and Mladenovac six months later: Where can you get free psychosocial help and who needs it most

Today is exactly six months since the day Ana, Adriana, Sofia, Emma, ​​Andrija, Mara, Katarina, Bojana, Angelina and Dragan tragically left us. Tomorrow, candles will be lit for Kristina, Milan, Dalibor, Nikola, Nemanja, Marko, Alexander, Lazar and Peter. There is no forgetting, the wounds are deep, still fresh and painful, and everyone’s responsibility as individuals and society as a whole is huge to ensure that something like this never happens again

Tragedies in the elementary school “Vladislav Ribnikar” and in the villages of Dubona and Malo Orašje in the vicinity of Mladenovac, 19 families were blackmailed six months ago, and an unspecified number were physically injured or traumatized. They also left an unexpected, shocking scar on the lives of the citizens of all of Serbia. Until May 3 and 4, we thought that such tragedies were happening to someone else, far away from us. Unfortunately, reality unexpectedly denied us.

“Wait for me” panel: Remembrance of “Ribnikar”, Dubona, Orasje and the days that stopped us at least for a moment

The Eighth International Conference on Child Safety “Safety and Responsibility 2023” organized by Igor Jurić’s “Center for Missing and Abused Children” could not pass without a review of the tragic days, which stopped us at least for a moment. Along with the activation of the Serbian “Amber alert”, topics on children’s rights and violence against them and prevention of behavioral problems, visitors had the opportunity to attend the panel “Wait for me”.

She was the moderator Dr. Tijana Mirović (doctor of psychology, individual and family psychotherapist, supervisor and mediator), and the participants Slobodan NegićFather Sofia Negić, John-Michael Keyes (“I Love U Guys” Foundation, USA) and Professor Tamara Džamonja Ignjatović, Ph.D (doctor of psychology).

Today and tomorrow are exactly six months since the tragic events. In addition to piety and giving mail to innocent victims, we must not forget the extremely important segment of psychological help, which, among other things, was discussed by the panelists.

Quick reaction of the profession: Psychologists have basic knowledge for reaction in crisis situations

Professor Tamara Džamonja Ignjatović, Ph.D, president of the Association of Psychologists of Serbia, says that the representatives of her profession were also taken aback by the tragic events. Shocked by the tragedy, at first they did not have a clear idea of ​​what they should do because fortunately they had no such experience until then. However, they were aware of that something must. Namely, in basic studies as well as in specialized training, psychologists are trained to react in crisis situations.

– As early as May 4, as the Association of Serbian Psychologists, we sent an invitation to fellow psychologists on our website to respond, to gather and agree on what to do in the field. It was clear that psychological support is necessary for the school, children, and parents. What was fascinating was that already that afternoon about fifty colleagues responded, the next day another 70. In 48 hours we had 180 volunteers at our disposal, ready to get involved as needed with all their available resources. That was the start, and then UNICEF, the Institute for Mental Health, and some other colleagues got involved. We invited the Ministry of Education as the only competent authority that can approve entry into the school. That’s how we started – says Prof. Dr. Tamara Džamonja Ignjatović, doctor of psychology.

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Prof. Dr. Tamara Džamonja Ignjatović: Solidarity and quick reaction of the profession to an unimaginable tragedy Photo: Tamara Džamonja Ignjatović/Nikola Tomić/Telegraf.rs

Psychosocial assistance in “Ribnikar”, other schools, but also outside them

According to Džamonja Ignjatović, two organized psychologists per shift “covered” the facility where the tragedy took place. However, as he says, it was clear that those most in need of help would not come to the school itself as a place of trauma. There was a necessity to organize a more systematic provision of assistance outside of school as well.

After about a month, the project started under the auspices of the Working Group for the Support of Mental Health and Safety of Youth of the Government of the Republic of Serbia Crisis psychosocial support for the community, which was coordinated and implemented by the Institute of Mental Health. Psychosocial help could be obtained in schools, but soon children, parents and teachers could contact the premises of the Youth Theater “Dadov”.

Where is it possible to get help today not only for those directly affected by the tragedy in “Ribnikar”

With the sudden end of the school year, it was possible to get help in “Dadovo” even during the summer. From September, the new address for everyone who needs psychosocial help and support is the Children’s Cultural Center. All categories of the population can receive help, not only children and parents directly affected by the tragedy in “Ribnikar”. The counseling center is intended for children, young people, parents and teachers, and services are provided every weekday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

A group of selected mental health experts, clinical psychologists and psychiatrists from the Institute of Mental Health, the Children’s University Clinic “Tiršova”, the Institute for Psychophysiological Disorders and Speech Pathology, the Children’s Department of the Clinic for Oncology and Radiology, as well as experienced school psychologists, provides psychosocial support on a daily basis. Students under the age of 15 must be accompanied by a parent, who consents to the service. Counseling is free, no referral or appointment is required.

– Our desire is to help those who exhibit certain mental difficulties or disturbances, as well as behavioral changes, to solve their problems in conversation with our helpers (psychologists and psychiatrists), through the strengthening of healthy mechanisms for overcoming difficulties – it is stated on the website of the Association of Psychologists of Serbia.

Problems in Dubona and Orašje

Prof. Dr. Tamara Džamonja Ignjatović points out that the network of psychosocial help and support is also organized in schools in Mladenovac and Smederevo, from which children and young people were killed in the tragedy that followed just one day after the massacre in “Ribnikar”.

– Unfortunately, the response was much smaller because the help was provided further away from the places where the affected people live. We were aware of the problem of voluntariness, that is, the modality of providing help to those who come forward because they need it. Essentially, many who might have wanted it did not recognize the way to get to it, the information system was problematic and it was not equally accessible to everyone. That is why it is very important that we do not stop with providing help to those affected in both tragedies. There is a lot that needs to be done in order to avoid the mistakes that were made in the future – emphasizes the president of the Association of Psychologists of Serbia.

Advice to parents, appeal to authorities not to wait to make important decisions

– Parents should observe children and their behavior. If they are anxious, sad, have nightmares or flinch at every sound, there are specialized, validated, effective treatments. We are still waiting for the Government’s response, although a proposal for such a specialized type of support was adopted at the Working Group. There is a great need so that everything we agreed on does not fall into oblivion. It is very important to think about concrete help for wounded children (physically injured, not only traumatized), their parents and I emphasize once again, children and people in Dubona and Mali Orašje. We cannot and must not wait for them to come to us. We have to go to them. It is not the same environment as Belgrade and we must not forget them – he warns Professor Tamara Džamonja Ignjatović, Ph.D.

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