Interview with Lidija Balaz, Psychologist, Psych Perceptions
Extract: MHF Life, 2nd Edition, 2019
Publishing Partner: Access News
SEEKING support after witnessing a cardiac arrest or similar traumatic incident is vital to ongoing wellbeing, according to psychologist Lidija Balaz.
Ms Balaz runs a private practice but has teamed up with the Michael Hughes Foundation to stress the importance of debriefing after being on the scene of a heart episode.
“I have worked with people who have been at critical incidents and it is essential they receive some support in the aftermath,” she said.
“The first port of call is to talk the incident over with someone.
“Often if a number of people are involved as witnesses, for example in an office environment, the workplace will organise a debrief through its employee assistance or similar program.
“These are usually done in either small groups or individually and can be a great help in the crisis prevention process.
“But they shouldn’t be used as therapy. A lot of people are concerned about what to expect if they go to a debrief or even talk about the incident they witnessed.
“The whole purpose of the debrief is to normalise the experience.
“Many people experience similar symptoms following such an incident.
“Physical symptoms can range from fatigue and sleeplessness to nightmares, restlessness, headaches and nausea.
“And these experiences can also trigger cognitive reactions, leading to intrusive thoughts, confusion, trouble concentrating, flashbacks, feeling emotionally numb and detached, fear of revisiting the scene of the trauma, depression and guilt – that’s a big one.
People who withdraw
“Many people choose to withdraw but that is counter-productive.
“The impact can hit people at different times; some people have an immediate emotional reaction, with others it can take days or even weeks to surface.
“Even if you feel you don’t need a debrief in the moment, you will be armed with information you can use when you need it.”
Ms Balaz said debriefs could be held from 24 hours to two weeks after the event, depending on the impact it has had.
“Situations vary from individual to individual,” she said.
“Some people might be dealing with other issues in their lives and the trauma becomes the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Those who experience an incident outside a group environment (for example, if you see someone have a cardiac arrest on the footpath or another public place) will not have the benefit of an organised debrief.
“The best thing people in this situation can do is talk to someone ,” Ms Balaz said.
“It doesn’t have to be a professional – tell family and friends what you saw and how it affected you.
“Retelling helps order information in your mind; creating a beginning, middle and end is really helpful in packing away that experience and processing it.
“Talk to a GP if symptoms of stress continue – you can also get help from community health centres or Lifeline, who can refer you on to a health professional if they think it would be helpful.
“Not everyone will need professional support; some people can bounce back without it – but I would encourage anyone in this situation to recognise they have been through a distressing, scary experience.
“It can TAKE three-four weeks for people to recover; in the first week or two reactions will be intense and that is normal.
“Try not to get frustrated with yourself.
“Don’t use drugs and alcohol to cope; that tends to make things worse.
“Try not to make any big life decisions and return to your normal routine as soon as possible.
“Stay busy but give yourself time to rest.”