- unable to switch off from the work
- upsetting dreams or flashbacks
- overreactions to work related issues
- victimised feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
- unreasonable anger or irritability focused at family, colleagues, or situations
- self-destructive behaviour such as driving too fast or having an affair
- jumpy, or an inability to sleep or relax
- inability to concentrate, leading to increased numbers of accidents or errors
- sensitivity to noise and bright lights
Negative thinking symptoms:
- negative self-beliefs such as, “I’m incompetent”; “the world is bad”; “no one can be trusted”
- lack of interest in things that used to be enjoyable
- negative outlook on life leading to unreasonable fears, beliefs, and attitudes
- feelings of isolation from family and friends
- emotional numbing and difficulty in showing sensitivity or positive emotions
- putting off doing work or dealing with demanding cases
- not looking too deeply
- avoiding questions that might lead to upsetting responses
- blocking out or forgetting the most distressing areas
- using alcohol to block out feelings
Trauma support in the workplace
This section forms part of the National Police Wellbeing Service trauma support programme to support officers and staff who are exposed to actual disturbing and shocking events as part of their daily work.
When those incidents at work take place, people may be likely to experience a range of unfamiliar feelings and reactions associated with the shock of the event and may have difficulty in collecting their thoughts and handling their emotional reactions about what has happened.
Our aim is to describe some common reactions to such events, helping you understand and recognise indicators and where to access further help or support if you feel that is needed.
It must be emphasised that there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ ways to react, and different individuals exposed to the same event may respond in quite different ways.
Having to deal with traumatic events is part of police life. While most officers and staff involved in an extremely stressful or traumatic incident will be shaken by what has happened, some adjust to their experiences with little or no apparent distress. This would be considered a quite common response. Sometimes people may in fact feel satisfied by the way that they have acted when faced with a traumatic event (such as if they have been able to help colleagues and others who have been involved).
Although everyone’s experience will be unique and personal, the process of psychological adjustment and recovery will often be different, and there maybe times that even the most experienced officer will find it difficult to cope.
When those incidents at work take place, you should have an opportunity to speak to your supervisor about what happened, be reminded of the support that is available to you including, where appropriate, a defusing meeting by your supervisor or a peer. As a partner, family member, or friend it is important that you understand what you can do to support the process of recovery.
Some common psychological reactions:
- emotions of fearfulness, nervousness, or occasional panic, especially when faced with reminders of the event
- hyper-vigilance - constantly scanning the environment for cues of danger or seeing threat in things that would have appeared innocent before, this could mean being overly protective of children or loved ones
- sleep disturbance - difficulty in getting off to sleep, restless sleep, vivid dreams or nightmares
- memories - thoughts/images of the incident, which can appear to ‘come out of the blue’, without any triggers or reminders other thoughts, images, or feelings may be prompted by something on the media, which have a resonance to their experience
- guilt - feelings of regret, about not having acted or coped as well as one would have wished, feeling that you may have let one’s self or others down
- sadness - feelings of low mood and tearfulness, irritability and anger at what happened or the injustice of the event
- irritability can often be directed at loved ones, close family friends, or colleagues
- feeling numb or detached from others or being unable to experience emotions such as love or happiness, there can be a withdrawing from loved ones, which is difficult to understand when what they want more than anything is reassurance
- withdrawal - avoiding social and family contact
- mental avoidance - avoiding thoughts to do with the event, people often try to push distressing thoughts out of their head, often unsuccessfully, and in the longer term this can cause further problems
- behavioural avoidance - avoiding thoughts, feelings, activities that are reminders of the trauma, these can be often subtle at first, such as avoiding noisy or crowded environments, taking a different route to work, and so on
- becoming ‘jumpy’ or easily startled by sudden noises or movements, such as a door slamming, the phone or doorbell ringing
Some individuals may also have certain bodily sensations, with or without the psychological reactions described above. Many of these symptoms are signs of anxiety, tension, or stress.
Some common physical reactions:
- shakiness and trembling
- tension and muscular aches (especially in the head and neck)
- insomnia, tiredness, fatigue
- poor concentration, forgetfulness
- palpitations, breathing difficulties, dizziness
- feelings of nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea
Promoting recovery - supporting others
It is very comforting to receive practical, social and emotional support from colleagues and others. It is important not to reject support by trying to appear strong or trying to cope completely on your own.
Talking to close colleagues or others who have had similar experiences, or understand what you have been through, is particularly important. You know yourself and the people you love best, so you are best placed to decide what works and is helpful for you.