Orlando is suffering from Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS) with all of the continuous news reports, life stories of the victims, personal experiences of the first responders, FB posts from family and friends, and changes in everyday life.
For those living in the area, simple things like going to the grocery store (normally a ten minute drive) can take as long as an hour. The reminder that the community has forever changed is evident by the new billboard postings of “Orlando Strong”, “Love is love”, and “Pray for Orlando”. The rainbow lights of the skyscrapers at night and Lake Eola (a park at the heart of downtown) are colorful reminders of the unity in the community. The memorials and vigils all over the downtown are evidence of the impact this massacre has had on everyone.
As a community, there is an undercurrent of stress, anxiety, frustration, shock, horror, helplessness, and disbelief of what has occurred. STS is the emotional duress that results when an individual hears about the firsthand trauma experiences of another. Its symptoms mimic those of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Nearly everyone in the area has an element of STS as people discover friends of friends who were killed, injured, or part of the first responder teams.
Those especially at risk for STS include:
- Professionals associated with trauma such as hospital staff, doctors, nurses, police, firefighters, EMTs, detectives, hotline staff, medical examiners, reporters, social workers, and counselors.
- Family members of victims, both in town and out of town, who received messages that night, learned of the event the next morning, needed to identify victims, or lend support while to those hospitalized, injured, disabled, or were present during the trauma.
- Friends of victims who learned of the loss or injury of their friends or friends of friends.
- Last the neighborhood of SODO (south of downtown) where the nightclub was located and the Orlando community as a whole.
Symptoms of STS include:
- Intrusive thoughts of the event at random times,
- Sadness that comes and goes,
- Poor ability to concentrate yet there is a strong desire to try to focus,
- Second guessing even simple decisions with an inability to think clearly,
- Detachment from event (it still feels like this happened somewhere else, not here in Orlando),
- Hypervigilance to loud noises, shouts, sirens, helicopters, and screams,
- Feeling hopeless and helpless yet wanting to be hopeful and helpful,
- Inability to embrace the complexity of the circumstance and wanting things to be more simple,
- Inability to listen to one more story,
- Anger and cynicism over things that did not bother before (projecting anger into a safer target),
- Sleeplessness, waking up and unable to return to sleep,
- Fear of what will happen next as the entire week was filled with other traumatic events,
- Chronic exhaustion that is not relieved by rest,
- Physical ailments that appear out of nowhere or are reoccurrences of past injuries,
- Minimizing what happened, and
- Misplaced feelings of guilt.
There are several ways to prevent the effects of STS. They include:
- Psychoeducation: reading and understanding the effects of STS on individuals,
- Informal and formal self-screening for assessment purposes,
- Workplace self-care groups such as group sessions, drinks after work, or sharing a meal together,
- Flextime work scheduling for employees who have been traumatized by the events,
- Self-care accountability to a buddy about progress or lack thereof, and
- Exercise (yoga or meditation), good nutrition and hydration.
It will take time for communities like Orlando to recover from the effects of STS. If you know of someone suffering from STS, please be patient with them and encourage them to seek professional help.