A tragedy has just happened in River Valley High School. Our plea is to practice compassion for every single person who is somehow involved. As a survivor and bystander to have compassion for yourself, as you reach out to those in need.
Often in a situation such as this, some people will experience trauma. Trauma happens when a person experiences or witness a terrifying incident that is often violent, life threatening or has caused significant harm or death.
Like many other psychological conditions, it is hard to notice trauma suffered by friends and loved ones or even in yourself. Often when a person is diagnosed with trauma, the term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is used.
PTSD is a deeply distressing experience that can be felt not just emotionally but also physically.
Symptoms of PTSD include:
- Uncontrollable flashbacks of the incident
- Distressing memories of the incident
- Trouble sleeping or nightmares
- Avoiding people or places that reminds you of the incident
- Problems concentrating and focusing on what you need to do
- Overwhelming guilt
- Irritability and conflicting emotions
Effect of PTSD on daily life
PTSD can change a person’s behavior and make life inconvenient for those around them. People affected by PTSD may:
- Act different from their usual behavior. E.g a normally cheerful person may be more quiet and withdrawn.
- Avoid talking about the incident and how they feel about it.
- Appear disconnected from everything around them.
- May not respond to friends and family.
- Refuse to do some things or go to some places that reminds them of the incident.
- Become more emotional even about seemingly unrelated issues.
Some people are more prone to PTSD then others. It depends on the genetic make-up of a person, their life- experiences and proximity to the incident. Some people can be badly affected just by reading or watching a video about similar life-threatening events experienced by others around them.
How to help a person with PTSD
Please show compassion and understanding for a person with PTSD. This person’s mind is in ‘shock’ and will need time to piece things together to get back on track with life. Support from family and friends is critical for a person recovering from PTSD.
- Tell them that you may not fully understand what they are going through but you are willing to help and be there for them. More on how to communicate care.
- Avoid joking or making light of the incident.
- Listen attentively and ask questions to clarify what they are trying to say.
- Be specific when asking them about how they feel. Since PTSB is a deep seated emotional reaction, many people suffering from it may not even recognise that they suffer from it in the beginning. You will have to gently mention the incident in a safe environment to get a conversation going. Always assure the person, that there are ways to keep safe and to avoid a similar incident in the future.
- Do not compare your own experiences about anxiety and fears unless you were also there in the same or strikingly similar incident.
A trigger is something that reminds the person of the incident. It can be a mere word, a song, a movie, an item that is somehow associated with the incident that can cause a whole mix of fears and anxieties to arise.
To manage triggers:
- Identifying what are some of these triggers and avoid them where possible.
- Be prepared for the triggers and have a set of coping skills in advance.
Get professional help
PTSD can be treated by:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- In this method, the therapist will help a person learn how to manage their emotions and thoughts about the incident. Then carefully and slowly re-expose the person to the fears and emotions associated with the incident. The aim is to allow the person’s mind to differentiate daily activities and related triggers from what happened in the incident. And to feel in control of their life.
Complicated grieve therapy
- PTSD becomes very complicated when the a loved one is lost as a result of the incident. It be experienced by a family member, close friend or any close relationship with the life that was lost in a violent manner. CBT alone or exposure therapy may not always work in such a case. Often the therapist will use a combination of other methods to understand the relationship with the deceased person and the meaning it holds. Complicated grief therapy looks into helping the survivors to find resolution for their grieve and to re-integrate the memories of the loss one back into their lives.
Sometimes, severe PTSD require medication to improve moods and reduce anxiety. Please ask for a referral to see a psychiatrist to assess if medication is the most suited approach.
Here are some ways to get help
Taking care of another person suffering from such complex issues can take a toil on carers. Vicarious trauma happens when a person is exposed to victims or sufferers of trauma and violence. Carers may feel helpless, loss of hope, guilt, pessimism and different negative emotions. Please have a self care plan when you reach out to support a person suffering from complex trauma.
This is a very brief over view of PTSD. Please do more research to understand it better.