As first aid and emergency care providers, you can expect to be exposed to various traumatic events while providing care to victims. Exposure to these events increases the risk of developing stress syndrome or post-traumatic stress and its long-term problems.
It is normal and healthy for a person to experience psychological and physical distress in response to traumatic events. Humans are equipped with both inborn and learned responses to situations that we perceive threatening to our survival. We use learned coping skills and the support of our family and friends to deal with such experiences. For a healthy person, the healing process is expected to get completed with no long-term consequences. However, some people may experience chronic or temporary effects due to the incident leading to stress syndrome or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Traumatic events refer to situations in which a person experiences a threat of death or serious injury to self or others, either perceived or real. These events often evoke intense fear, horror or sense of helplessness. Actually, it is not the event itself that results in these reactions, but its meaning for the person.
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First aiders and emergency care providers are exposed to very stressful events every time they provide care. Some situations that can increase a person’s risk to traumatic stress include:
- having no control of the events;
- inability to provide care to all victims;
- being in the frontline of emergency services for a long time;
- being in a situation where one feels helpless, especially in prolonged, failed rescue effort;
- having a peer or partner seriously injured or killed while providing emergency care;
- witnessing horrifying incidents, such as mass calamities;
- experiencing death of a child while providing first aid;
- responding to an emergency involving a loved one; or
- being questioned for care rendered.
Stress can also be cumulative such that a person may develop psychological and physical response only after so many years of providing the same first aid procedures. This is especially common among veteran healthcare providers assigned to provide emergency care, such as first aiders and emergency medical technicians.
The long-term disabilities resulting from traumatic stress can be managed with the care and support of loved ones, friends and peers. Most people who suffer from symptomatic stress syndrome are able to recover from the effects of this psychological condition. It is very difficult to recover in isolation. Being open to support and help of others is essential in the recovery process. Some people are able to recover from traumatic stress disorder using one’s learned coping skills and support from loved ones. Others require professional support, through individual or group counseling, for continuous rehabilitation and return to optimal function. Usually, advanced first aid training involves modules on how a first aider can manage all of these stressful situations and how to ensure mental health.