Resources for First Responders

Vicarious/Secondary Trauma

As people who assist those who have suffered a traumatic event, trauma service professionals can be highly impacted by providing such services. A serious impact of serving those in crisis is called vicarious trauma, or secondary trauma. Vicarious trauma is a reaction that occurs as a result of witnessing or learning about traumatic events that have happened to others. It can be a slow, gradual process and emergency responders can be especially vulnerable because they are exposed to the distress and trauma of others on a regular basis.

You may not even be aware that you are suffering from vicarious trauma because the exposure to trauma can become “normal’ to you in your professional role.

Trauma can become

“normal” to first responders, but there’s help.

Vicarious trauma can cause job performance to decrease and mistakes to increase, a drop in morale, a decline in general health, mood changes, and personal relationships to be impacted. It’s important to recognize if you are experiencing the impact of vicarious trauma, because there is help. Signs of experiencing vicarious or secondary trauma include: • Having flashbacks, nightmares or intrusive thoughts about traumatic events, or avoidance of people or places that bring back those thoughts or memories • Appetite changes • Missing work or dreading going to work • Hypervigilance (being “jumpy, or having an exaggerated startle response) • Experiencing anxiety, oversensitivity, emotional unpredictability, sadness and/or depression, or emotional numbness • Withdrawal from friends and family, loneliness, distrust, projection of blame and rage, increased self-doubt, or loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities

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