Emotional Distress Following a Traumatic Event
Diana Migacz, Licensed Professional Counselor, Christian Family Solutions
In light of recent tragedy, it is common to hear that “counselors will be on site” to offer resources for those experiencing “emotional distress.”
What exactly is emotional distress and how do you know if you are experiencing it?
Emotional distress in the simplest form is the thoughts, feelings, and memories that arise after experiencing, witnessing or even learning of traumatic details to a person or place that is close to you. Often the terms “trauma” and “emotional distress” are used together, and tend to conjure images of veterans, first responders, or people who have experienced abuse. While that notion of trauma and who it affects is accurate, we should not limit distress to those categories of people alone. Emotional distress has a far broader scope.
People can and do experience emotional distress following car accidents, natural disasters, violence, fires, medical diagnoses, and a wide variety of other types of incidents. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (or “DSM-5,” a reference book by the American Psychiatric Association), “psychological distress following exposure to a traumatic or stressful event is quite variable.” This means that people exposed to the same event will have different types of reactions, and that is normal.
So how is one to know if he or she is experiencing emotional distress? According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the following criteria are warning signs:
- Eating or sleeping too much or too little
- Pulling away from people and things
- Having low or no energy
- Having unexplained aches and pains, such as constant stomachaches or headaches
- Feeling helpless or hopeless
- Excessive smoking, drinking, or using drugs, including prescription medications
- Worrying a lot of the time; feeling guilty but not sure why
- Thinking of hurting or killing yourself or someone else
- Having difficulty readjusting to home or work life
If you or someone you know is experiencing these types of symptoms following a traumatic or stressful event, please seek help. Counseling can provide people with a safe place to discuss their experience. Professional counselors can assist with mentally processing the incident and increase coping skills when distressing memories arise.
In this life there will be trouble and hardship. We know that. We also know that God promises to provide help in time of need. Sometimes that help is in the form of a professional counselor. As a licensed professional counselor myself, I am honored to serve in this way, to help God’s precious people in their time of greatest need.
- Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition