In a five-day period, our nation has been rocked by terrorist devastation with its inevitable traumatic impact on many of us, along with other tragic events. If you are reading this column, you are likely in the field of mental health, a student taking psychology courses, or someone who has been affected in some way by the shocking events of this week and are seeking some help.
While writing this column Tuesday, our initial focus was on the Boston Marathon bombings and all the heroic first responders. During a writing break, we noted that our President and a Senator received letters containing a deadly chemical, ricin. We continued writing on Wednesday and watched in horror as a West Texas factory and its surrounding area was decimated by a horrific explosion. Then Boston and its surrounding areas were on total lock down due to a lone armed terrorist on the loose. Under “normal” conditions, last week’s flooding in the Mid-West, where lives have been lost would have been the top news. Much has happened in five days and whether or not we were personally affected by the events, we were witness to them 24/7 via the media. On this seventh day, the column is complete, and we hope to provide simple coping tools to assist first responders, mental health therapists, and those who watched traumatic events unfold. In our brave new mediagenic world we all participate in such events without being ‘on the ground’ since we are part of the ‘air game’—as we all were following the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center terrorist attacks.
What can you do if you are a First Responder or related to one?
The heroes who responded to the Boston Marathon tragedy and the Texas fertilizer plant explosion may have an especially difficult time. In the coming weeks, if you were a first responder, work hard to not feel guilty about those you could not help. The people you have helped are grateful beyond words. Take pride in what you were able to do to offset some of the horrors experienced by so many by your strategic actions. However, in the coming weeks and months, do watch for signs of PTSD developing in your thinking and feeling, and if you notice them, check the resources below, and feel comfortable in seeking professional help.
Heads up advice for mental health professionals
You are incredibly important and will be more so in the coming weeks and months. Having dedicated your life to the mental well-being of others, you will want to help as soon as possible. Many people will need you in the near future – stay physically and mentally healthy, be strong, and remain focused on what needs to be accomplished and what you can do, along with your limits. Your community care will go on for some time, so you must balance it within the context of your other professional obligations and your personal and family life.
12 Coping Guidelines for first responders and mental health professionals
1. Respect the trauma/tragedy - acknowledge and be sensitive to the severity of the situation and how profoundly it affects everyone, but also determine how it is interpreted differently by each person with varied scenarios.
2. Seek balance - it takes an equal and opposite action to balance the terrible trauma that has occurred. Replace the Past Negative with Present-centered positive deeds, thoughts, words and actions.
3. Be compassionate – always show kindness via a willing ear, sincere smile, make eye contact, learn first names, give gentle touch or hug – all are simple healing balms.
4. Promote community cooperative compassoin - help people form natural support groups with shared phone numbers and email contacts.
5. Stay mentally and physically strong - don’t succumb to the overwhelming negative situation (The Lucifer Effect). It’s important to be solid when others need you the most.
6. Don’t bring a personal disaster to a societal disaster - as much as possible, put your personal feelings aside when you are helping others. You can become an emotional casualty yourself if you aren’t careful.
7. Focus - on solution(s), not the problem(s). Rather than focusing on the trauma (Past Negative), move forward slowly, carefully and deliberately away from the problem and toward the solution (Future Positive). Don’t become stuck in the past negative. Encourage selected Present Hedonism, fun activities as self rewards.
8. Honor and respect those who lost their lives or were injured - the best way to honor those who have died or have sustained a life-changing injury is to help those left behind or all those whom you can help.
9. Be aware of your limitations - walk away if you find yourself slipping into exhaustion, depression or anxiety. Take care of yourself; you can’t help anyone if you aren’t feeling up to the job. Do seek professional help if your mental distress lasts more than a few days.
10. Extend your empoathy - to the parents of the two terrorist perpetrators who must live out their lives in shame because of this unimaginable act of evil by sons they believed were good boys and getting a good education in America.
11. Avoid judgmental attitudes toward religious and ethnic groups associated with the terrorists - Moslem and Chechen identities of the terrorists are not to be condemned; rather focus on understanding the mind control tactics of their “terrorist teacher.”
12. Encourage the faculties that promote everyday heroes - being socio-centric, optimistic, self-confident and practice in being a hero-in-training, while challenging the negatives of egocentrism, cynicism, pessimism and public apathy. (visit www.HeroicImagination.org)
How do you know if you have PTSD?
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association, after a traumatic event if you suffer from symptoms that include depression, anxiety, flashbacks, avoidance, isolation, difficulty falling and/or staying asleep, difficulty concentrating, irritability, an exaggerated startle response and hypervigilance, you may have Acute Stress Disorder (ASD). If these symptoms last longer than a month, then you may suffer from PTSD.
PTSD is made up of three basic things: trauma, depression and anxiety. We encourage you to visit our column The Rocky Road to PTSD http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-time-cure/201210/the-rocky-road-... for a detailed description of symptoms.
The week’s events have been devastating and their many associated impacts may be felt for years to come. But one day, this too shall pass. Life will get back to normal – maybe a new and different normal – but normalcy will surely return. But there will always be some bad times mixed in with the good times for each of us personally and for our nation. It is the Yin and Yang of our existence. And there will be a brighter tomorrow for each of us, helpers and those who are helped. Our job then is to keep the brightness in our hearts aglow to offset the ever-present darkness of Evil.
E Medicine Health - http://www.emedicinehealth.com/post-traumatic_stress_disorder_ptsd/page3...
National Center for PTSD – www.va.gov
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) - http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-pts...
Visit our website, "http://www.timecure.com/" \t "_blank" www.timecure.com, to view a free 20 minute video - The River of Time; you’ll learn self-soothing techniques as well as how to let go of past negatives, work towards a brighter future, and live in a more compassionate present.
See The Time Cure: Overcoming PTSD with the New Psychology of Time Perspective "http://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/psychotherapy" \o "Psychology Today looks at Psychotherapy" Therapy (Zimbardo, Sword & Sword, 2012, Wiley Publishing); for strategies to reduce stress and improve communication, visit "http://www.timecure.com/" \o "www.timecure.com" \t "_blank" www.timecure.com and "http://www.lifehut.com/" \o "www.lifehut.com" \t "_blank" www.lifehut.com.