Supporting your staff and volunteers during traumatic situations
Our members are now receiving calls from people struggling with their mental health. In some cases, these calls are from calls from people who are considering taking their own lives.
This is a distressing situation for all concerned, and it’s only right that we prepare ourselves to help those most in need during these scary times. We also need to support the staff and volunteers who are taking these calls.
When we heard this, we wanted to be able to reach out and support our members so they can – as ever – be the rock their communities need. The information below is adapted from material produced by the BMA, Freedom from Torture, and the Helplines Partnership.
Vicarious trauma or secondary traumatic stress can happen to someone after they have been empathetically supporting someone in desperate need. It can be a result of long exposure to many cases, or in response to a single harrowing experience.
Here are a few signs of how to spot if your staff member or volunteer is suffering from vicarious trauma:
- Experiencing lingering feelings of anger, rage and sadness about the victimisation
- Becoming overly involved emotionally
- Experiencing bystander guilt, shame, feelings of self-doubt
- Being preoccupied with thoughts outside of the work situation
- Over identification (having horror and rescue fantasies)
- Loss of hope, pessimism, cynicism
- Distancing, numbing, detachment, cutting people off, staying busy – avoiding listening to stories of traumatic experiences
- Difficulty in maintaining professional boundaries, such as overextending self (trying to do more than is in the role)
There are a few methods you can employ to help your staff and volunteers to reduce the risk of vicarious trauma:
- Increase self-observation – recognise and chart signs of stress, vicarious trauma and burnout
- Ensure they take care of themselves emotionally – engage in relaxing and self-soothing activities, nurture self-care
- Ensure they look after their physical and mental wellbeing
- Maintain a healthy work/life balance
- Set realistic goals
- Don’t allow them to take on responsibility for the other person’s wellbeing; supply them with tools to look after themselves
- Balance their caseload – ensure a mix of more and less traumatised clients
- Give them regular breaks, and time off when they need to
- Encourage them to seek social support from colleagues, family members
- Employ a buddy system
- Use peer support and opportunities to debrief
- Offer training opportunities
- If required offer time-limited group or individual therapy
There are two free online training packages which you may wish to share with your staff and volunteers. The Zero Suicide Alliance is a collaborative of National Health Service trusts, businesses and individuals who are all committed to suicide prevention in the UK and beyond. The alliance is ultimately concerned with improving support for people contemplating suicide by raising awareness of and promoting FREE suicide prevention training which is accessible to all. The aims of this training are:
- to enable people to identify when someone is presenting with suicidal thoughts/behaviour
- to be able to speak out in a supportive manner, and
- to empower them to signpost the individual to the correct services or support.
The training can be found at https://www.zerosuicidealliance.com/training/