For first responders--police officers, fire fighters, EMT’s--and healthcare personnel, it’s not always easy to recognize that someone is suffering from traumatic stress or posttraumatic stress, that is, PTSD. The person you as first responders and healthcare personnel are dealing with could just seem to be causing trouble or being difficult. You can save yourself a lot of trouble and avoid re-traumatizing the other person by recognizing symptoms of PTSD and traumatic stress and acting in ways that help vs. escalate. Here are some signs that a person may be suffering from traumatic stress or PTSD that first responders and healthcare personnel can use as a checklist:
1. Someone in a car running through an intersection with a stop sign or red light, or turning left when another is approaching too closely. Someone suddenly switching lanes in front of another car without seeming to notice the other car.
2. When the person is stopped, a kind of dazed expression or quickly escalating to yelling or crying when confronted.
3. The person not seeming to understand what the officer or EMT is saying. Asking questions that have already been answered.
4. The person acting in a childlike or overly dependent manner.
5. The person becoming easily angered or agitated.
6. In a doctor’s office or the ER, someone continually going up to the counter to ask or demand to be seen quickly.
7. In the ER, the patient not seeming to understand instructions being given.
How First Responders and Healthcare Personnel Can Help De-escalate PTSD and Traumatic Stress
1. Be polite and respectful.
2. Begin by and continue to speak slowly and quietly.
3. Put yourself into the mindset that this is a person who may have been going through a difficult time; imagine if it were you—put yourself in their place and speak from that insight.
4. Ask if the person is all right. Ask what happened to cause them to do what they did. Use a caring, authentically empathetic tone of voice.
5. Avoid a tone of accusation, confrontation or sarcasm at all costs. Don’t be curt.
6. If you need to give information or direction, give one piece of information at a time and ask the person if they understood. If not, ask them what they didn’t understand. Repeat the information incorporating the information you received about what was not understood. Don’t just repeat what you said in the same words as before.
7. For healthcare personnel in the ER, if you give instructions to the patient, give them the instructions in written form as well. Ask them what they understood you to say. That way you can see what information they might be missing.
For more information, click here: PTSD and traumatic stress and how to get help, for organizations of first responders or healthcare personnel who would like training in recognizing and de-escalating PTSD in their clients and in the public.