Understanding And Dealing With Violent And Traumatic Events In Communities & Organizations

Revised: May 21, 2014

None of us are fully prepared to deal with traumatic events. We feel devastated whenever property is destroyed or there is serious injury or a loss of life. We can become overwhelmed when friends, co-workers and loved-ones experience tragic, dangerous, life threatening or violent events. We can look for support from our community, friends, families, co-workers, employers, a health care professional, a spiritual leader or a belief in a higher power. A special meeting within the first 24 to 72 hours of a traumatic incident for the people directly involved as well as others affected is an important step toward recovery. Discussing our emotional and physical reactions as well as ways to effectively cope is critical. Without debriefing, the problems associated with traumatic incidents can become chronic and less responsive to treatment.

Stress Reactions Following A Traumatic Event

  • Anxiety, fear, panic or anger
  • Emotional numbing
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Waking throughout the night
  • Nightmares or daydreaming
  • Exhaustion or mental fatigue
  • Change in appetite
  • Disbelief or denial of events
  • Reliving images of the traumatic event
  • Dwelling on the event
  • Easily angered or upset
  • Depression or worsening depression
  • Problems concentrating
  • Accident proneness
  • Increasing frustration or impatience
  • A tendency to isolate or withdraw
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Reluctance to assume responsibilities
  • Fear or reluctance to be open or talk
  • Episodes or outbursts of crying or sadness
  • Fear or reluctance to express emotions
  • Headaches, stomach aches, indigestion
  • Children acting younger or less responsible
  • Children return to bed wetting

Information And Steps You Can Take

  • The incident should be debriefed from a social and psychological perspective at a scheduled time and place. Organizational or community  leadership and administrative discussions should occur during community time and at separate times.
  • During a debriefing, two hours or more of uninterrupted time for people to express feelings, thoughts and concerns is often needed.
  • At least one experienced facilitator is often needed and recommended. Larger groups may require more than one facilitator or may require several meetings and debriefings.
  • During the debriefing it is important that participants be assured that there will be no reprisal or loss of status for attending.
  • Participants should have an opportunity to identify and discuss what happened, the impact it has had on them and their experience coping. Group size should be large enough to allow discussion (but not too large).
  • Debriefings should also include discussion of common experiences, feelings and thoughts about the incident using a semi-structured debriefing process.
  • As an outcome, participants should come to realize that their reactions are normal. They should learn how they can cope, how they will adjust over time and when to seek help.
  • Should symptoms or stress reactions following a traumatic event become severe, debilitating and prolonged, individuals should learn when and how to contact a health care professional for advice.