Unhealthy coping strategies
Personnel may seek to avoid situations, places and themes that remind them of past traumatic experiences. This may affect life post-deployment and can lead to social withdrawal and/or risk behaviours such as substance abuse. Other unhealthy coping strategies are isolation, eating too much or too little, working too much or spending too much time on social media or video games. Aggressiveness and violence, blaming and apportionment of fault may also occur.

Burnout and vicarious traumatisation
Burnout does not happen after a single critical incident, but from chronic stress. When exposed to other people’s trauma over a longer period of time, empathy and compassion may be “used up”. This is characterised by:

  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Absent sense of achievement
  • Feeling of being detached from reality (depersonalisation)

Personnel working closely with trauma survivors over time can develop vicarious traumatisation. This occurs when another’s traumas and physical reactions negatively affect the empathetic helper both physically and mentally.

Moral injury and ethical stress
Great moral dilemmas and ethical agony can, on the one hand, lead to guilt and shame, doubt, feeling of inadequacy and moral defeat. Personnel may experience survivor guilt, leading to forms of negative compensation such as reluctance to allow oneself joy and pleasure. On the other hand, some are affected the opposite way: Emotional numbness, cynicism, disillusionment and loss of previous values. Some experience that their identity as a helper is altered as a consequence of moral and ethical stress.

Strong and persisting reactions after traumatic experiences
Personnel who after one month still experience physical arousal, intrusive memories/thoughts and avoidance behaviour to such an extent that it affects daily functioning, may have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Consider referral to a health professional for assessment and treatment.