This month we are discussing a difficult topic; Critical Incidents. The World Health Organization (WHO), describes a critical incident as an event out of the range of normal experience, one which is sudden and unexpected, involves the perception of a threat to life and can include elements of physical and emotional loss. They go further to describe the “Terrible Ten”;
- Line of Duty Death
- Suicide of a colleague
- Serious Line of Duty injury
- Disaster/multi casualty incident
- Killing or wounding an innocent person
- Significant events involving children
- Prolonged incidents especially with loss of life
- Personally threatening situations
- Events with excessive media interest
- Any highly distressing event
Simply stated – Crisis is a state of heightened emotional arousal, a state of emotional turmoil, which can overwhelm our typical coping strategies.
As someone involved in the Zoo and Aquarium industry, depending on the time in which you started this wonderful yet sometimes tumultuous career path, you may or may not have expected to encounter one or more of these. Unfortunately as the culture of our world as a whole changes, it is becoming more expected that an individual (not just those in our industry) will encounter at least one of these terrible experiences in their lifetime. Trauma is not rare; about 60% of men and 50% of women experience at least one trauma in their life. [www.ptsd.va.gov]
With that in mind, I want to preach caution with this post. If you are someone with lived experience, be kind to yourself. My first intention is always to do no harm. In my own career I have experienced an unfortunate number of what is listed above, so after sharing this, I will also be investing in some self-care and spending some time in my garden.
My other intention is to simply bring some awareness. There are several myths about critical incidents. “All critical incidents and traumatically stressful situations are almost universally stressful to the personnel that encounter them. However, not all critical incidents will impact people the same way. The important thing is to recognize when a critical incident is adversely affecting you. Everyone’s stress reaction is not the same to critical incidents. Everyone will have different reactions to incidents. Some experience physiological reactions (Heart palpitations, stomach aches, chills/sweats etc.) Others might have a cognitive and emotional response that might include anxiety, depression, difficulty concentrating, insomnia etc. In addition to the different reactions there can be differences in time when the symptoms present. Some may be immediate others delayed (hours, days, or even weeks…) You are having a normal reaction to an abnormal situation.” [https://www.mass.gov/doc/critical-incident-stress-management-informational-pamphlet]
I mentioned some statistics about the percentage of people who will most likely encounter a critical incident in their lifetime, here are just a few more for the sake of awareness. 4-10% of people who experience a critical incident will develop PTSD. 25% of victims hurt during a crime will develop PTSD. Critical incident stress will affect 87% of all emergency services workers at least once in their career. [Kureczka 1996]. To me, those numbers are staggering. But we must always remember that there is hope.
Another training I took recently, Psychological Body Armor, discussed how instead of calling it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, we instead can call it Post Traumatic Stress Injury or PTSI. Disorder indicates that a disease is possible and it is often associated with mental health illnesses. An injury indicates temporary harm or damage and is often associated with physical ailments that have the capacity to heal over time. They may leave a scar or a physical limitation, but the person can continue on and improve. Similarly if we have encountered a terrible ten already, we must invest in our mental health the way that we do our physical health. Invest in that endurance and turn our PTSI in to PTG, Post Traumatic Growth.
What is mental endurance or mental stamina? “Mental stamina is a combination of regular brain exercise, relaxation, and concentration. Stamina is defined as ‘staying power or enduring strength’, or the ability to use your mental powers to get through whatever life throws at you.” [www.mensjournal.com/health-fitness]
So now, if we acknowledge that in our field we run the risk of experiencing one or more of the terrible ten, we acknowledge that we can heal from those encounters, and we acknowledge that it will take work and time. What’s next?
Let’s work to practice some mental endurance, building our resiliency, and develop as caregivers for ourselves in the way we have for our charges. Recognize the parts of our life that we can control, build our confidence, challenge ourselves, and be committed to these goals. I thank all of you for taking the time to read this and further more motivate to set yourself up for success in a field riddled with challenges, decades of toxic culture, and the potential risk of encountering the terrible ten. With recognition comes power, and you have the power to develop the culture in which you wish to be a part of. You have the power to heal yourself and stay in the industry to bring positive change. Just think about how much animal welfare has changed over the years, let’s start providing ourselves some of that appropriate welfare too!
As always, we are here for you. GRAZE is developed by people with lived experiences within the Zoo and Aquarium industry. Take care of yourselves, grab some non-contextual time with an animal or two this month, just take some mindful time to enjoy them and the space they share with you. You are all amazing and I appreciate you.
If you have experienced a terrible ten or other traumatic experience and are unsure of how to move forward, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org if we aren’t the right resource for you, we want to help get you connected to the right one. You are not alone. You are supported.
With Care ~