Secondary stress and public safety personnelPublic Safety

Public safety personnel who interact with trauma survivors are themselves exposed to a form of traumatic stress. More recent diagnostic formulations of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder such as those in DSM-IV have broadened the definition of trauma to include participation in others’ traumatic response. As you encounter and provide rescue and relief to those who have experienced disaster, you will be exposed to secondary stress and traumatization, the focus of this fact sheet.

Coping with secondary stress:

• Address the stress of your work through practicing self-care--Nurture yourself by focusing on sources of pleasure and joy, and allow yourself to escape when necessary.

Fortunately, public safety personnel have tools to manage secondary stress: we have knowledge of the ways in which trauma affects people, we have skills for soothing arousal and processing states of distress, and most importantly, we have each other, a support system with the potential to help each of us maintain perspective and find understanding during those times when we get caught in the web of secondary traumatic stress. We are not invulnerable, but if we maintain a strong sense of community among ourselves, we can be resilient.

Web Links

Discussion of compassion fatigue, which is a potential problem for anyone working with disaster victims.

Resource is titled Working with Trauma Survivors: What Workers Need to Know. It has lots of good information for anyone working in the impacted environment.