Stress and the Public Safety Diver
Not only do we experience stress when performing our job, but the things we see as public safety divers can cause additional stress such as recovering bodies (especially children), the injury or death of a fellow diver, and/or having to notify the next of kin. This constant involvement can become quite stressful and, like the tough guys we are, we bottle up our emotions and don't vent what's built up inside. The job almost requires this response. What would it look like, if after recovering a small child, the recovering divers openly wept in front of an audience? We understand that we have to be the ones in control, we have to be the ones steady enough to take charge and do what has to be done. But, because of our role and our humanism, we pay a price.
Seeing the effects of stress in emergency service workers such as EMS, law enforcement, firefighters, dispatchers, nurses, doctors, etc. is not hard. Just look at the high divorce rates, suicides, alcoholism, etc. amongst these dedicated professionals. Signs of stress can also show up as fatigue, nausea, gastrointestinal (GI) upsets, memory loss, concentration problems, problem solving difficulties, anxiety, fears, depression, identification with the victims, nightmares, flashbacks, and fear of repetition of the stressful event. Just look at this list. Imagine having any one of these stress-related symptoms and having to perform a recovery, which could very well add to your already high stress level. You can see that being the tough guy can be hard.
Pressure - Physiological stress
When faced with a situation we feel obliged to handle, pressure may be felt all around us, pushing us towards the water's edge. This pressure can be from our peers, our department or agency, the victim's family, or from the media, etc. If you succumb to this pressure and you're not completely comfortable with the situation, physiological stress can develop. Quite often the effects of this stress will go beyond feeling a little anxiety and strain and can result in diminished mental awareness even inability to think clearly. When this occurs, newly acquired or little used skills may be abandoned for random reactions.
Be true to yourself. Don't allow the pressure to get you in a situation you are not prepared to handle. Remember you can always say "No." Only you can decide whether or not you are prepared to dive. We can do this by making an educated decision based on our training, skills and knowledge in the situation at hand. Anything else is not professional and can cause injury or death.
Question - When was the last time you felt this type of pressure? How did you react?
What can you do?
Understanding stress and its effect is the first step. Next, look for stress relievers, which can relax or vent your emotion before it leads to "stress build-up". Talking about the situation is the best way of dealing with what's inside. Quite often you discover other team members feel the same way but because of the fear of losing their "macho-ness" they remain silent, bottling everything up. If we don't deal with it properly, stress can act like a time bomb, building up inside you until there's an explosion.
Critical Incident Stress Debriefing - C.I.S.D.
A CISD is a group interaction in which a specialized team of mental health professionals and peer " allow emergency service personnel to talk about their thoughts, actions, and reactions to a stressful event. A CISD is not group therapy, and it is not a critique of the event. A CISD is a time to learn what is normal expected behavior and feelings following a stressful event. It is also a time to learn ways to manage stress symptoms.
Many of today's professional dive teams have incorporated a CISD Team as part of their information readiness program. They have established guidelines requiring all members to attend a CISD any time the team or any of its members are having difficulty in dealing with an incident. Some of the key indicators of the need for outside help include changes in behaviors such as sleep patterns, eating habits, work habits, punctuality, mood swings, depression, and anxiety; and continuations of stress symptoms beyond the first 48-72 hours or overwhelming stress symptoms in the first 24-48 hours following a critical incident.
You can find out more about critical incidents and ways of dealing with stress by contacting: The International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, 4785 Dorsey Hall Drive Suite 102, Ellicott City, Maryland 21042. Their telephone number is (410) 730-4311 their FAX is (410) 730-4313.