FIRST RESPONDERS AND TRAUMATIC EVENTS: NORMAL DISTRESS AND STRESS DISORDERS

 

WHAT QUALIFIES AS A "TRAUMATIC EVENT?"

The DSM-IV identifies a traumatic event as one in which we experience a threat (actual or perceived) of death or serious injury to self or others, with a response of "intense fear, helplessness or horror." It is not the event itself, but the meaning it has for the individual that makes it traumatic.

 

WHAT IS THE NORMAL RESPONSE TO A TRAUMATIC EVENT?

Right after a traumatic event, normal people experience a range of normal reactions, including: anxiety, feeling "revved up," fatigue, irritability, hyper-vigilance, increased emotionality, problems sleeping, exaggerated startle response, change in appetite, feeling overwhelmed, impatience, withdrawing from family and friends.

WHAT ARE SOME SIGNS THAT ARE INDICATORS OF A STRESS DISORDER?

Hyper-arousal: increases in heart rate, respiration and blood pressure, psycho-motor agitation, physical tension, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, fear, irritability or anger.

Avoidance: avoiding exposure to the trauma, including talking about it, thinking about it, visiting the place where it occurred or seeing people who shared the experience of it. Other avoidant symptoms might include withdrawing from friends and family, being unable to go back to work if it was on-the-job trauma.

Intrusions: include intrusive thoughts or memories of the traumatic event; flashbacks, in which people feel as though they are reliving the event with great intensity, and nightmares.

Psychic numbing: includes a sense of being emotionally numb after a trauma, experiencing a sense of unreality, dissociative amnesia, in which the traumatic event is pushed out of awareness, "spacing out" and using substances to "numb out."

 

WHAT KINDS OF SITUATIONS MAY INCREASE A FIRST RESPONDER'S RISK FOR DEVELOPING A STRESS DISORDER?

First responders are exposed to highly stressful events in the course of their routine duties. There are specific situations that increase one's vulnerability to traumatic stress: having no control over the volume of calls; having to continue responding to calls regardless after an especially disturbing call; being in the service for a long time, since stress is cumulative; being in a situation where one feels helpless in the face of overwhelming demands, such as a prolonged, failed, rescue; having a partner, or a peer killed or seriously injured in the line of duty; the suicide of a peer; being at serious risk oneself; witnessing horrifying things; experiencing the death of a child in the line of duty; responding to a call for a victim who is known to the responder; working without the support of administration, or having administration question one's actions in an investigation.

 

WHEN SHOULD A FIRST RESPONDER SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP?

With the support and care of family, friends and peers, many people are able to recover from the effects of a traumatic event. It is difficult to recover in isolation. The ability to accept support and help is essential to healing. People are sometimes able to recover using their own coping skills and support from friends and family. If the First Responder is still experiencing significant distress after a month has passed, it may be helpful to seek professional support through either individual or group counseling.

 

WHERE CAN FIRST RESPONDERS LOOK FOR HELP IN ALBERTA?

ALBERTA UNION OF PROVINCIAL EMPLOYEES: AUPE members do stressful jobs and sometimes things happen at work that can put our members into crisis situations. Now there is free confidential help available. If you are experiencing intense anxiety or vulnerability due to traumatic or crisis events occurring at work call AUPE's Crisis Support Service at 1-844-744-7026. After an initial assessment to ensure that your crisis is related to workplace events you will receive up to six counselling sessions per crisis situation. The service is provided by Solareh, a mental health counselling organization and is completely free and confidential to AUPE members. Crisis support is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. If something happens at work and you need help dealing with it, call. Our Crisis Support Service is there for you.

OSILink: A Lifeline on the Frontline - 1-844-951-4163. OSILink is a national, toll-free, confidential support line for first responders and their families.

SPIRAL PHOENIX TRAUMA INSTITUTE: The Institute is made up of clinicians and researchers specializing in the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Simple PTSD is associated with exposure to a single traumatic stressor, while complex PTSD is associated with chronic trauma exposure. Our team has extensive experience working with PTSD across the lifespan using cognitive, psychodynamic, narrative, expressive arts, and play therapy. We work from a person-centered, social justice perspective with military personnel, first responders, survivors of sexual abuse/exploitation, and survivors of interpersonal violence.

WAR HORSE AWARENESS FOUNDATION: The War Horse Awareness Foundation is a non-profit charity that serves to educate frontline service providers about operational stress injuries. Events are organized throughout the year to allow people from a variety of professions to come together, share information and experience how working with horses can help those who have been exposed to trauma.

LEGACY PLACE SOCIETY: Legacy Place Society is the confidential home away from home that support First Responders and Military Personnel individually or as a family in providing accommodations during times of family crisis within marriages or for medical attention (Counselling, cancer, occupational stress injury, post-traumatic stress, surgery, etc).

BADGE OF LIFE CANADA: Badge of Life Canada is a peer-led national resource hub dedicated to promoting the welfare of active and retired municipal, provincial and First Nation police personnel diagnosed with an operational stress injury, including post-traumatic stress and suicide prevention by enhancing a network of therapeutic choices, research, education and training that promotes health, wellness, hope and recovery.

 

Heroes Get Help is an initiative of the War Horse Foundation, the Spiral Phoenix Trauma Institute, and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees. For more information on the campaign, please contact Dennis Malayko, AUPE, at d.malayko@aupe.org or Deanna Lennox at warhorsefoundation@icloud.com.