Unfortunately, all of us have had the experience of learning about a traumatic event that has occurred within our community, municipality, state, country, or world at some point in our lives. Besides having to learn about what happened before, during, and resulting from the traumatic event, there also comes a plethora of stories that delve into just how impactful that event really was for a myriad of different individuals involved and their mental health. Typical talking points for these stories tend to include: the impact the traumatic experience(s) have on the mental health of the community, those who witnessed the event, those who were directly involved in the event, and the direct family members/friends of those hurt/killed by the event, and ultimately the mental health of the perpetrator of the traumatic event. What many stories do not highlight, though, is the response from those outside of the traumatic event. Those who come in to provide whatever help they can to those impacted, the methods utilized by those helping to intervene, and what else could be done to improve upon those interventions going forward from this point on.
To start, it is important to understand the typical response to these traumatic events across many communities and municipalities to better understand the process and where improvements can be identified. The first thing that happens after a traumatic event is that a trauma-response team will be mobilized to the scene, tasked with providing support to those who have been impacted. Team members typically consist of local mental health professionals who are well versed in how trauma impacts people, how to handle stressful situations, and are knowledgeable about the available resources. The team will mobilize within the first 24-48 hours following a traumatic event and will offer their services to anybody who feels that they have been impacted and to those referred to them. The professionals seek to provide people with information regarding healthy coping strategies for the intense emotions they may be experiencing. And to refer those they meet with to local resources for them to utilize once the team is dispersed, or at least provide them information about their local resources that could be utilized going forward.
While this immediate response is great and can help a lot of people in a short time, especially during an extremely vulnerable time for those impacted, this is not a long-term solution. This is merely a bandaid being used to attempt to make the situation manageable because of the widespread impact and to try to help prevent further trauma from spawning from an already impactful situation. However, once the response team leaves, the resources for those who need help tend to diminish immensely, and there is a very common response from those who were not impacted as directly that “moving on” is the next step and needs to be worked towards. Even though this statement is not false, just as with grieving the loss of a loved one, everybody’s reaction to the situation will be different, and the timeframe needed to recuperate will vary from person to person.
When addressing these differing concerns, it is vital that another system be added to the response team to assist those in need of help not only immediately after the traumatic event but also ongoing to help to prevent further trauma to those impacted and the community. One suggestion would be for response team members that are not volunteers but paid professionals. They would be available long-term to continue following up with those who sought help or may be seeking help after the response team has dispersed. Additionally, education that could be provided to the family/friends of those impacted for signs/symptoms to be aware of, how to handle somebody who may be experiencing a crisis, and information about how to locate the proper supports needed would be beneficial, not only for that specific situation but also for future situations that may occur. Implementing these suggestions, as well as others not already mentioned, could show to be a difference-maker in the lives of those who have been impacted negatively by the traumatic situation.