The benefits of supporting yourself and others after a traumatic event

  • Female health worker on phone
    Female health worker on phone
  • Using a laptop on a beach at sunset
  • Supporting Yourself and Others After Traumatic Events Booklet
    Supporting Yourself and Others After Traumatic Events Booklet

Working in rural and remote health can be incredibly rewarding work, in a uniquely challenging environment. Rural and remote health workers can also be exposed to many things that can lead to increased vulnerability, such as culture shock, social isolation, weather extremes, or challenging clinical events. If we are then exposed to a traumatic event on top of this vulnerability, it can naturally trigger a trauma response. 

Trauma is a person’s emotional response to a distressing experience. Traumatic events are often sudden or unpredictable and usually pose a significant threat to a person’s physical or psychological well being. Such events are common, with research finding that up to 70% of the general population is likely to experience a traumatic event in their lifetime. However, as a rural and remote health worker, it is even more likely you will be exposed to a potentially traumatic event.

The caring connection we establish with patients is amplified by having long-standing or close connections with community members in rural and remote communities. Whilst this connection is often one of the more rewarding aspects of the job, we are often at the front line during traumatic events that frequently involve someone we know.

All too often, health workers normalise their traumatic experiences and see them as a normal part of living and working in rural and remote environments. This normalisation invalidates the experience, is an unhealthy coping strategy, and can negatively impact the healing journey. Acknowledging and accepting what has happened and that you have been through an extremely stressful and distressing event can encourage your healing. During this time we don’t want to throw ourselves into work or activities (avoiding those painful thoughts and feelings), but simply attend to our basic needs and solve any problems that require our immediate attention. It’s also important to return to our routines as soon as possible, whilst taking it easy and implementing our self-care strategies. 

It can also be challenging to know how to support colleagues or friends who have experienced a traumatic event. We tend to want to ‘fix’ things, taking away their distress. However, reassuring the person that their reactions, whatever they may be, are normal and making time to listen and be with them will go a long way to making them feel less alone.

If your team member has experienced a traumatic incident, studies have found that employees need to feel supported afterwards and know that management and the organisation care about them. Create or advocate for opportunities for employees to talk about their feelings or needs should they wish to. Encourage them to take breaks as required.

There are many other things you can do for yourself, your colleagues, and your employees to support them after a traumatic event. CRANAplus has developed a range of resources specific to the rural and remote health workforce, including a brief two-page Trauma tip sheet, a more detailed Booklet and an eLearning course. These resources are available at https://crana.org.au/mental-health-wellbeing/helpful-resources

Experiencing some level of psychological distress following a traumatic event is normal. With the support of friends, family, and colleagues, most people find their emotional distress settles within a few days to a few weeks. However, don’t be afraid to reach out for professional support at any stage. You can call our 24/7 Bush Support Line on 1800 805 391 and talk for free with one of our experienced psychologists.

 

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