Being a witness to, or involved in a traumatic incident such as a fire, road crash can leave you with a strong emotional reaction.
As a witness to a road crash, fire or other serious incidents you may have seen people injured or scenes that can have an effect on your emotions, sleep or how you feel. People all respond differently to such events. Some may not be affected, while others experience symptoms but don’t always associate them with what they have seen. Some feel experience a reaction over the first few days and then get back to normal, while other people might get symptoms weeks later.
Symptoms might include sleeplessness or nightmares, flashbacks to what you saw, or feelings of anger, fear or grief. Some people find it hard to concentrate, they may have headaches, feel sick or lose their appetite. You may also feel tearful or depressed. Be aware of how you are feeling and make a note of anything that is not normal for you.
Immediately after the event
- Get to a safe distance and stay there: If you have witnessed a bad road crash be aware that you may be shocked, upset and have loss of concentration that can lead to another accident especially if you are driving.
- Keep warm: Shock can cause shivering and feelings of cold. Stay warm and if available ask for a hot, sweet drink such as sugary tea.
- Call home: Make sure someone is aware of what is going on and where so that they can provide assistance. Hearing a familiar voice can be a comfort in itself.
Depending on the circumstances of the incident you were involved in or witnessed it is also important to check to make sure that they are not injured. Shock can act as a pain blocker so look for injuries, they may not always be felt.
Look after yourself
People who witness these incidents often experience feelings of guilt, frustration, fear and panic. These emotions can be very intense and change rapidly.
It is extremely important to recognise that this is a one-off event that is rare and intense. As such, any reaction a person has to this is also likely to be unfamiliar and intense. The mind is trying to deal with an overload of images, sensations and that can have a physical effect on your body. No reaction should be judged as bad or taboo.
Time is usually a very good healer and in time emotions and the ability to deal with thoughts and memories will return to normal. So be kind to yourself. Try to relax, eat favourite foods, spend time with good friends, forgive any disturbing thoughts or feelings without reserve.
Find some distraction - healing doesn't always come from confronting what you have experienced or seen head-on. In the first few days, you might find TV or music helps but try to avoid things that are violent or relate to what happened in the incident if you can.
Sleeping - you might find your sleep patterns change. You might find yourself sleeping at strange hours or 'cat-nap', need to leave lights on, have music in the background to help you get off to sleep.
This is all a normal reaction and eventually, things will return to normal. Do try to get some sleep, however much and whenever it comes. The body is doing what it needs to do to process the information of a very shocking event.
Talk to someone or get help if you need it
You might just want to talk about what has happened to friends and family, but if you are experiencing difficult symptoms you might want to talk to a professional. You shouldn’t feel like this is a weakness. Remember that after experiencing a violent or intense incident, there is nothing wrong with needing to seek help to cope with it. Try the Counselling Directory or GP recommendations to find somebody accredited near you.
Talk to the Samaritans any time, in your own way, and off the record - about whatever's getting to you.
Call free on 116 123, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website at www.samaritans.org
The national charity Brake has a helpline available on 0808 8000 401 and useful support material on its website for those bereaved or seriously injured as a result of a road crash. The helpline is open 10am to 4pm Monday to Friday and can also be contacted via email email@example.com