PTSD also known as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is a psychological disorder that happens when one has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. Traumatic events include: a serious accident, war/combat, rape, natural disaster, a terrorist act, threatened with death, sexual violence, or serious injury.
There are four main categories for PTSD symptoms, however, they can vary in severity:
- Intrusive thoughts like flashbacks, repeated, involuntary memories, stressful dreams. These can happen and make one feel as though they are re-living the event.
- Avoiding people, situations, objects, and places that remind one of the traumatic event. The avoidance can be so profound that one will resist thinking or even talking about it.
- Thoughts and mood will be distorted and often hard to remember that may be important aspects of the traumatic event. These distortions can make it difficult for one to experience positive emotions, have any interest in previously enjoyed activities, or feel detached from others.
- Distortions in reactivity and arousal such as irritability and anger outbursts, acting in self-destructive ways, being suspicious of one’s surroundings, easily startled, or difficulty sleeping or concentrating.
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Dr. Sheryl Kataoka provided an intervention for teachers, school staff and adults to help children and students that experience PTSD symptoms while at school. This intervention is a part of Psychological First Aid for Schools.
Step 1: Listen
During step one, teachers or adult school staff should provide students with an opportunity to share their experiences and express feelings of worry, anxiety, fear or other concerns about their safety. Speaking with students can occur one-on-one if a teacher and student find themselves in a relatively private place to talk. The adult should convey interest, empathy and availability, and let students know they are ready to listen. The teacher can open the discussion by acknowledging what has happened and letting students know that it is not only acceptable to share their experiences and establishing that the school is a safe place to do this.
Adults should avoid making judgments and predictions, such as “You’ll get over it,” or “Only the strong survive.” It is important to validate the students’ life experiences without probing students for more details than they are willing to share. Forcing students to go over their experiences in too much detail, especially immediately after the crisis, can re-traumatize the student and may cause more emotional and psychological distress to themselves and to others who may hear additional details about the event.
Step 2: Protect
For this second step, adults should try to reestablish students’ feelings of both physical and emotional safety. They can honestly inform students about events surrounding the crisis, such as sharing with them information about what is being done in the community and school to keep everyone safe. This information should be provided in a developmentally and age-appropriate manner. In the classroom, or around school, adults should maintain structure, stability and predictability, and make efforts to reestablish routines, expectations and rules. For example, bell schedules should return to normal as soon as possible. If shortened days are required, keep them to a minimum. Traumatized students may experience more confusion when disruption comes to their school routines, including after school activities, by too many changes to their regular schedules. Concerns about separation from parents or caregivers are frequently children’s paramount concern. Parents can help stabilize children’s reactions by resuming mealtime, homework, and bedtime routines as well as community or church activities disrupted by the crisis or emergency. It is also important at this phase to protect students from further physical harm or psychological trauma which can occur through their viewing or hearing repetitive media reports on the incident or through bullying by peers at school.
Step 3: Connect
One of the most common reactions to trauma or fear is emotional and social isolation and the sense of loss of social supports. It can occur automatically, without students or adults realizing that they are withdrawing from their teachers or peers, respectively. The third step is to help students reestablish their normal social relationships and stay connected to others in order to experience social support. Restoring and building connections promotes stability, recovery and predictability in students’ lives. A student’s classroom and school is a safe place to begin restoring normalcy during a crisis or disaster. Through the eyes of children, adults can identify the “systems of care” that are part of their everyday life, move from beyond the classroom and school to the family and then to other community anchors including preexisting faith and cultural supports. This objective serves to help students reconstitute the relationships between the key community systems or “anchors” in their lives. Teachers or other school staff that reach out and check in with students on a regular basis can do this reconstitution, sometimes several times a day Students also can be encouraged to interact, share “recovery” activities and take on team projects with other students, friends or teachers. With this type of interaction, students feel the caring and consistent support of adults in their lives, even during a difficult time of coping.
Step 4: Model Calm and Optimistic Behavior
Adults can model calm and optimistic behavior in many ways, including the following:
- Maintain level emotions • and reactions with students to help them achieve balance
- Take constructive actions to assure student safety, such as engaging in a safety drill to remind them of how to stay safe, or planning a project that improves the physical or social climate of the school
- Express positive thoughts for the future, like “Recovery from this disaster may take some time, but we’ll work on improving the conditions at our school every day;” and
- Help students to cope with day-to-day challenges by thinking aloud with them about ways they can solve their problems.
Step 5: Teach
To support and facilitate the coping process, it is important to help students understand the range of normal stress reactions. School counselors, nurses, psychologists or social workers can take on this task. They can help students become familiar with the range of normal reactions that can occur immediately after a traumatic event or disaster and teach relevant coping and problem-solving skills.
HOPE is Here
If you’re struggling with PTSD or would like to refer a student or someone you know, we’d love to speak to you further. HOPE is here. Contact us today.