Traumatic Events in the Workplace

Traumatic Events in the
What is a Traumatic Event?
A traumatic event is any event with sufficient impact to
produce significant emotional reactions in people now or
later. It is an event which is considered generally outside
the range of ordinary human experiences.
(Mitchell and Everly, 2014)
• It is an experience that is outside the range of our normal
day to day living, and of such a nature that it would cause
significant stress to almost anyone.
• Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) is our ‘normal’ reaction to an
‘abnormal event
• It is now generally accepted that a critical incident need
not be personally life threatening, but such that it
threatens the emotional and psychological wellbeing of
the individual/s involved.
Normal Reactions to Traumatic Events
Change in Sleep Pattern
Easily startled
Fatigue/ Exhaustion
Hyperactivity/ Underactivity
Health problems- skin
rashes, headaches
• Trembling, lack of
Thinking about things
Difficulty concentrating/ decision /
Memory Disturbance
Inability to attach any importance to
anything other then the incident
Trouble Managing Feelings
Signs and Symptoms
• Physical – increased heart rate, dizziness,
headaches, increased blood pressure, etc.
• Emotional – variable mood, anger, emotional
distress, etc.
• No time for self or others – withdrawal, isolation.
• Stress symptoms.
Long Term Exposure to Traumatic Events
Contributing factors
Some individuals have a genetic predisposition to mental health problems, meaning that there is
a strong familial history which predisposes a person to develop a mental health disorder. However,
a genetic predisposition for will not necessarily lead to a mental illness.
Lifestyle of a person can contribute for example: burning the candle at both ends, not taking time
to relax and re-cooperate.
For some where there is pre-existing mental health problems such as depression or anxiety
where we see there symptoms elevate following trauma.
Those who are already experiencing existing high level stress can also be impacted more severely.
Where an individual has previously experienced trauma they are at risk of developing significant
symptoms due to a previous trauma being triggered.
Those with drug and alcohol problems may find that they reach for these methods to avail
dealing with the effect of the trauma, therefore compounding the problem.
Certain personality types deal with trauma better then others. People who are anxiety prone,
tend to worry or have an obsessive/ perfectionist nature, are more likely to have severe stress
People with strong personal support systems cope better with a crisis, but a key factor is the more
control people feel they have in a crisis situation the less trauma they tend to experience.
Role of Managers
Information Gathering - Information to determine immediate needs & concerns
Practical Assistance - Mobilise pre -appointed staff to help address immediate needs &
concerns. WHS, HR, Counsellor
Connection with Social Supports - Help establish brief or ongoing contact with
primary support persons and friends on site and families at home
– Provide respite for staff
– Set realistic workloads
– Provide enough qualified supervision
– Acknowledge the severity and pervasiveness of staff’s traumatic experiences and
their after-effects.
– Encourage staff to identify and address signs of trauma
– Provide opportunities for continuing education
– Provide time-out, sufficient vacation time.
– Support personal change and development for staff.
– Managers to observe changes in behaviour, attitudes and beliefs.
– Greater promotion of EAP
– Extend/customise the EAP as required
Role of Peers
Contact & Engagement - Respond in a nonintrusive, compassionate & helpful manner
Safety & Comfort - Provide immediate &
ongoing safety and physical & emotional comfort
Stabilisation (if needed) - calm and orient
those who are overwhelmed & distraught
Role of Counsellors, WHS Reps, HR
Information on Coping - Provide information on
coping, including education about stress reactions &
Linkage with Collaborative Services - Link
with appropriate services & providing information about
other internal and external services that may be needed in
the future. This may include referral into EAP counselling.
Aim of Intervention
Psychological First Aid (PFA) is about helping adults and
families in the immediate aftermath of an incident.
PFA is designed to reduce the initial distress and to foster
short- and long-term adaptive functioning and coping.
• To give closure to the event
• Provide framework for recovery
• Normalise the reactions experienced
• Provide accurate information
• Enable understanding & process the event
• Re-establish coping strategies
• Facilitate return to normal routine and functioning
You don’t have to be a counsellor to provide PFA
Protective Factor - Resilience
The ability to recover
from illness, change
or misfortune;
Being able to resume
an original shape or
position after being
bent, stretched or
Resilience defined
• If our lifestyle creates pressures with which our body and brain cannot cope,
we can reach an ‘elastic limit’. And just like an elastic band breaks when
stretched too far, we too can experience changes which are irreversible (such as
health problems, relationship breakdowns or loss of employment) if pushed
beyond our ‘elastic limit’.
• The challenge is to optimise brain and body to cope with the environmental
demands of both success and failure, so that you can maintain an enduring
sense of wellness.
The ability to bounce back or recover from stressful situations
The ability to take on challenges, and find meaning in them
Being able to respond positively to difficult situations
Learning and growing through various experiences in life/ Rising above adversities
Transforming unfavourable situations into wisdom, insight and compassion
To be able to cope when things look bleak/ Being able to tap into hope
Being able to forgive
Protective Factor - Resilience
Resilience is a protective factor relating to exposure to
a traumatic event. It is about positive and successful
coping. It is about persistence, adaptation, and capacity
for success despite adverse events and environments.
 Resiliency starts before a traumatic event.
 It strengthens the individual at key turning points throughout his or her
 It is an active, optimistic approach to problem solving
 Internal locus of control - belief in one self
 It is an ability to engage positively with others
 A capacity to understand and regulate emotion
 A capacity to learn and adapt from experience
 Support and good relationships are essential
Self Care: Work Out Stations
Kash Thompson EAPAA Conference 2008
Intellectual –
Social –
it Out
Emotional –
Physical –
Social – Relational Station
Self Care Strategies:
• Establish peer and social support
• Regular defusing/ discussion
• Good relations with others
• Social life (weekly)
• Ability to communicate your needs
• Ability to say no (or yes with conditions)
• Asking for help
How do I rate myself on the above?
0 - - - - - - 5 - - - - - - 10
Intellectual- Review Station
Self Care Strategies:
• Understanding self-care principles
• Knowing/ accepting my limits
• A way to maintain positive self talk
• Stopping to review my needs (set dates)
• A way of benchmarking myself
How do I rate myself on the above?
0 - - - - - - 5 - - - - - - 10
Bad Average Good
Physical- Psychological Station
Self Care Strategies:
• Satisfactory sleep
• Balanced diet
• Regular physical exercise
• Appropriate use of alcohol
• Regular medical check up
• A form of recreation (weekly)
How do I rate myself on the above?
0 - - - - - - 5 - - - - - - 10
Bad Average Good
Emotional- Spiritual Station
Self Care Strategies
• Ability to relax and create calm
• Knowing my frustration “triggers”
• Managing my frustration well
• Ability to express emotions appropriately
• Sense of connection to my higher purpose
• I can separate myself from other’s strong emotions or distress
How do I rate myself on the above?
0 - - - - - - 5 - - - - - - 10
Bad Average Good
Self Assessment
Yes / No
Do you have a supportive network X 5?
Do you have a hobby?
Do you belong to a social group or activity group?
Do you practice (some form of relaxation e.g. yoga, meditation)?
Do you exercise for at least 20 minutes three times a week?
Do you do something ‘just for yourself’ that you really enjoy?
Have you attended a stress management course?
Do you have a set of short term and long term goals?
Do you recognise and deal with stress related symptoms ASAP?
Do you know how to contact your EAP Provider?
What is your Score?
When and Where to Get Assistance Employee Assistance Program
Phone: 1300 366 789
Free, easily
Staffed by
Short term
voluntary and
counselling and
support for all
service that can professionally
employees and
provide support
their family
for personal or psychologists or
social workers
Life isn’t about living without
problems. Life is about solving
problems. Tom Krause born 1934- Finnish Opera Singer