Support for members exposed to traumatic stress

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE -- Some groups of people are at high risk for witnessing or being involved in traumatic incidents. These include emergency medical personnel, fire response, security forces, mortuary personnel and active duty members exposed to combat or violence.
   Ordinary people can also be exposed to traumatic events, such as motor vehicle accidents or being a victim of a crime. Even family or close friends of a victim of trauma can be affected. It is important for all of us to be aware of how to cope with traumatic stress in healthy ways.
   The first thing is to realize that within the first three months after a traumatic event, it is completely normal to experience symptoms of grief, depression, irritability, insomnia or just being overly anxious. Again, the symptoms are completely normal within the first three months.
   Symptoms that are not normal must be recognized and identified are symptoms of losing touch with reality (hallucinations, visions or delusions) and suicidal or violent thoughts or plans. People suffering from these symptoms should see or be referred to and evaluated by a mental health professional as soon as possible.
   Unhealthy ways of coping with traumatic stress include alcohol or drug use, isolating oneself from others and participating in risky behavior.
   With the realization and awareness that a variety of symptoms can occur, the next thing to know is how to best cope with these symptoms. The answer to that question is, "Take care of and don't isolate yourself."
   Taking care of yourself means just that -- making sure your body is as healthy as it can be. Ways to do this include starting and keeping on an exercise regimen (at least three times per week minimum), adhering to a regular sleep schedule with at least six hours of sleep each night, eating a well balanced diet and scheduling regular enjoyable and relaxing activities.
   In addition, instead of "clamming up" -- staying in and not interacting with others -- it's healthier to keep in contact with loved ones or friends. This serves to decrease a sense of isolation and shame regarding the feelings and emotions being experienced. In addition, this will help to instill a sense of control and mastery over the memories of a traumatic event, with resulting decreased levels of anxiety.
   The Traumatic Stress Response team is a new program which replaced Critical Incident Stress Management. This team is comprised of members from the mental health clinic, chaplains staff, Family Support Center and peer support groups such as fire rescue or security forces.
   The purpose of TSR is to: 1) disseminate information to affected members on how to cope with traumatic stress, 2) consult with commanders and first sergeants over traumatic stress related concerns, and 3) provide educational and support services to affected members. Active duty members are entitled to four sessions (confidential) with any TSR team member for counseling and support.
   For more information regarding the TSR program, call 734-4393.
   In summary, expect to experience a variety of symptoms within the first three months. These symptoms are for the most part going to be normal reactions to abnormal experiences. The most effective way to deal with these symptoms is through establishing healthy habits and avoiding isolation from friends and family. Lastly, the TSR team is here to help assist you in dealing with traumatic stress.