1) Let the person tell their story if they wish. Do not push them to talk if they don’t want to. People who have experienced a traumatic event have their own pace for dealing with a trauma. In trying to help the person, it is important to let them set the pace and not force the issue. Forcing someone into a discussion about a traumatic event may actually re-traumatize the person.
2) Be a patient and empathetic listener, before offering suggestions. Make personal contact and listen non-judgmentally.
3) It is very important to reassure the person that stress reactions are normal responses to abnormal events. Such reactions include shock, fear, grief, emotional numbing, indecisiveness, worry, unwanted memories, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, being easily startled, distrust, and irritability. Explain that is not unusual for these reactions to continue for days or even weeks after a trauma. In time, most people have a normal recovery of their emotions.
4) Encourage the person to reach out to other people who can provide support and share feelings about what is happening. Encourage them to talk with family, friends, and work colleagues. They should follow their own instincts as to how much they say and with whom they talk. Do not tell the person to stop reliving events and simply forget about the trauma or to “get on with life”.
5) Advise the person not to use alcohol or drugs to cope. Instead, advise them to use relaxation techniques and reach out to other people who can provide support.
- If the stress reaction has persisted for more than a few weeks, encourage the person to seek professional help. Similarly, they should seek help if they continue to experience distress that interferes with normal functioning.
If you or a person you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, and/or they persist for more than 3-4 weeks, you are encouraged to contact your physician, make use of your company Employee Assistance Program (EAP), or make contact with a health professional by some other means. It is normal to have intense reactions to abnormal events. It is when those reactions persist that medical attention becomes important.
For many people, the opportunity to discuss the event (debrief) is an important tool in coping with the experience. Below is a list of resources that you can access for support. Most resources listed below (such as distress lines, clinical supports) are governed by very specific guidelines for the treatment of personal information and ensure that the individual’s confidentiality is protected.
Crisis Services Canada: Provides toll-free, 24 x 7, bilingual anonymous phone counselling to adults in all provinces and territories. Call 1-833-456-4566.
Kids Help Phone: Provides toll-free, 24 X 7, bilingual, and anonymous phone counselling to young people in all provinces and territories in Canada.
Mental Health First Aid: For more information about Mental Health First Aid and to find out how it might be of benefit during this period or in the future, please don’t hesitate to contact Mental Health First Aid Canada at [email protected].
Sun Life Financial, Building a Workplace Mental Health Strategy
Public Health Agency of Canada, Responding to Stressful Events
Canadian Psychological Association, Resources for responding to emergencies and disasters
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
Canadian Mental Health Association: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)