PTSD Information

Recognizing Posttraumatic Stress

When can posttraumatic stress occur?

Posttraumatic stress can occur following the experience of an overwhelming incident involving the threat of serious injury or death. Posttraumatic stress may also occur after witnessing or hearing about a critical incident. 

What happens during a critical incident?

Reactions to critical events vary from mild reactions involving minor disruptions in a person's typical activities, to severe reactions that may be debilitating. The emotional reaction involves a sense of fear, helplessness, or horror. Physically, it is not uncommon to feel anxiety with increased heart rate and respiration, sweating, and a sense of unreality. 

What is an acute stress reaction?

As a result of experiencing a critical incident, people may experience an acute stress reaction which can lead to Acute Stress Disorder, and last up to a month following the critical incident. Some common signs of an acute stress reaction include:

a sense of unreality or disconnection difficulty concentrating
intrusive thoughts about the event less interested in activities you used to enjoy
nightmares feeling distant from others
avoidance of reminders of the event hyper alert
easily startled irritability

The following are some common problems that co-occur with posttraumatic stress reactions:

feeling depressed anger, irritability
anxiety panic attacks
increased alcohol and/or drug use physical aches and pains, headaches, nausea
feeling emotionally numb fatigue
distress restlessness
feeling 'keyed up' or 'on edge' jumpiness


Risk and Resilience Factors for PTSD

Risk factors for PTSD development in police       Factors promoting resilience after a stressful event

No gender differences Healthy decision-making skills
Routine work stress is more important Supportive relationships
Poor social support Good problem-solving skills
Panic and distress at time of incident Good coping skills
Childhood abuse Community supports
  Positive work experience
  Healthy diet, exercise