A critical incident can be defined as any event that has a stressful impact sufficient enough to overwhelm the usually effective coping skills of an individual. Critical incidents are abrupt, powerful events that fall outside the range of ordinary human experiences. These events can have a strong emotional impact, even on the most experienced individual.
The biggest factor in long term effect is not the event but how the event is interpreted. Adversity, trauma, and vulnerability are part of the human experience. Unfortunately, when trauma strikes, and it is mishandled, the individual can get into a way of thinking and behaving that becomes an endless cycle. Appropriate interventions can help the individual(s) move forward, and not be define by the trauma. Allowing time to process the event and then moving forward with useful contributions which create belonging is critical to recovery.
Following the traumatic incident, it is common for an individual to experience a number of disturbing thoughts, images, and feelings for a few hours to several weeks. Sometimes these reactions may be delayed. Critical incident stress manifests itself physically, cognitively, and emotionally. Although, the symptoms are unpleasant, they are also expected and are a sign that the body and mind is recovering from the stressful event.
No one who responds to a traumatic event is totally untouched by it; nor will anyone have the exact same reaction to the same incident. You cannot predict how powerful an incident will be or what effects it will have on you. You may be seasoned and tough, but you are also human.
Having a trained mental health expert can help an individual sort out their physiological and/or psychological responses after a critical incident. This includes letting them know the experiences and thoughts they are having are not signs of weakness or that you are going crazy, these responses are actually quite normal.
Some of the more commonly reported reactions after a critical incident include:
- Anxiety about the event
- Preoccupation about the stressful event
- Avoidance of situations or thoughts that remind you of the incident
- Decreased interest in usual activities, including sex and appetite
- Feelings of sad or loneliness
- Insomnia, frequent awakening, disturbing dreams or nightmares
- Problems with concentration, or memory
- Guilt and/or self-doubt related to the traumatic event
- Anger or irritability