Your family member/friend has been involved in an emotional-charged incident, often known as a critical incident. The following information is to assist you in supporting them after such an event.
Emergency services personnel may be exposed to critical incidents at any time during their careers. A critical incident is any event that has a stressful impact sufficient enough to overwhelm an individual's usual coping strategies. Critical incidents can be sudden, shocking and outside the range of ordinary human experience, however there may also be an event that has a specific personal significance to the individual. Sometimes this exposure may result in strong emotional and/or physical reactions. These reactions are relatively common place and normal. Research shows that up to 87% of emergency service personnel will be affected by critical incident stress at some time during their careers. Work experience or years of service do not necessarily make emergency services personnel immune to the impact of critical incident stress.
A number of factors can contribute to an individual's reaction to a critical incident. These factors are related to the nature of the incident and the personal relevance of the incident. An emotional reaction to an incident is not a sign of inadequacy or psychological problems, rather it is an indication that, for that particular person, the incident was out of the ordinary or had specific significance.
Things to remember
- The reactions to such an event can include physical, emotional and behavioural changes. Signs such as agitation, tearfulness and sleep disturbance are not uncommon.
These signs can occur at the time of the event, within hours, within days or even weeks. The symptoms will normally subside and disappear in time. Some people do not experience any changes at all and this is not unusual or uncommon.
Things that may help your family member/friend
- Do not be afraid to ask what you can do that they will find helpful.
- You may not understand what they are going through at this time, but offer your love and support.
- Encourage, but do NOT pressure them to talk about the incident and their reaction to it.
- Talk can be the best medicine. Your primary 'job' is to listen and reassure.
- Encourage them to have some periods of physical exercise in the first few days after an incident. This should be consistent with their normal levels of exercise and medical advice should be sought if there are any difficulties with exercising.
- Exercise alternated with relaxation should alleviate some of the physical reactions.
- The reactions they are experiencing are not unusual after such an event. Recognise this and reinforce it with them.
- Encourage them to spend time with others or help them organise time alone if needed.
- Help keep their routine as normal as possible.
- Encourage them to avoid over use of drugs or alcohol, including caffeine and cigarettes.
- Encourage them not to make any big life changes or decisions.
- Encourage them to get plenty of rest and maintain a healthy diet.
- Recurring thoughts, dreams or flashbacks are normal - encourage them not to fight them - they should decrease over time and become less painful.
When professional assistance can help
If the signs of stress your family member/friend is experiencing do not begin to subside, if they intensify, or if you are concerned in any way, encourage them to seek further assistance. The Tasmanian Emergency Services Critical Incident Stress Management program offers 24 hour telephone contact to Emergency Service Personnel as well as face to face follow-up assistance after the initial contact.
100% Confidentiality is assured 24 hours a day on 0427 181 207