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Trauma and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Trauma and Recovery

Warning Signs of Trauma-Related Stress

by the American Psychological Association

Individuals who have experienced a traumatic event oftentimes suffer psychological stress related to the incident. In most instances, these are normal reactions to abnormal situations. Individuals who feel they are unable to regain control of their lives, or who experience the following symptoms for more than a month, should consider seeking outside professional mental health assistance.

  • Recurring thoughts or nightmares about the event.
  •  Having trouble sleeping or changes in appetite.
  •  Experiencing anxiety and fear, especially when exposed to events or situations reminiscent of the trauma.
  •  Being on edge, being easily startled or becoming overly alert.
  •  Feeling depressed, sad and having low energy.
  •  Experiencing memory problems including difficulty in remembering aspects of the trauma.
  •  Feeling "scattered" and unable to focus on work or daily activities. Having difficulty making decisions.
  •  Feeling irritable, easily agitated, or angry and resentful.
  •  Feeling emotionally "numb," withdrawn, disconnected or different from others.
  •  Spontaneously crying, feeling a sense of despair and hopelessness.
  •  Feeling extremely protective of, or fearful for, the safety of loved ones.
  •  Not being able to face certain aspects of the trauma, and avoiding activities, places, or even people that remind you of the event.

Secondary Traumatization

  • One additional aspect of traumatic exposure affects primarily the workers ( POLICE OFFICERS and SOCIAL WORKERS ) who help trauma and disaster victims. These people include the emergency workers -- EMTs, fire, police, search & rescue, etc. -- exposed to an overdose of victim suffering. These professions are at-risk for SECONDARY TRAUMATIZATION. Known by various names -- compassion fatigue, secondary or vicarious traumatization, and "burn out", the symptoms here are usually less severe than PTSD-like symptoms experienced by direct victims in a disaster. But they can affect the livelihoods and careers of those with considerable training and experience working with disaster and trauma survivors. Secondary trauma might also be seen in jurors, for example, or in other individuals exposed to traumatic material (e.g., news photographers); the risk also increases when traumatic exposures are unexpected, or among those without adequate preparation.
  • Expect this, if you work with or are exposed to the stories of many disaster/trauma victims, and take steps to protect yourself at the first sign of trouble.
  • Basically, there are THREE RISK FACTORS for secondary traumatization: 1) exposure to the stories (or images) of multiple disaster victims, 2) your empathic sensitivity to their suffering, and 3) any unresolved emotional issues that relate (affectively or symbolically) to the suffering seen.

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