Images of traumatic experiences are saved for a lifetime
Some pictures stay in our head forever. This also applies to many witnesses of a serious traffic accident, who then frequently suffer trauma and who have to deal with serious psychological problems due to what they have experienced. According to the Institute for Psychological Accident Aftercare (ipu) in Cologne, eyewitnesses to a serious accident sometimes show significant psychological stress symptoms, which can also be associated with physiological disorders such as shortness of breath, cardiovascular disorders, eating disorders, impotence or gastrointestinal disorders. The images of the seriously injured and possibly even dead follow the witnesses to sleep. Insomnia and nightmares are typical consequences.
Acute psychological stress reactions and post-traumatic stress disorders
In serious accidents, witnesses and first aiders are often confronted with images that they can never forget for a lifetime. In addition, they are often relatively helpless when it comes to the scene of the accident. As an acute reaction to the helplessness experienced and the terrible things that had to be seen, many first-aiders show a state of psychological shock that can lead to "fear, anger, despair, overactivity or withdrawal" in the days immediately after the accident Institute for Psychological Accident Aftercare on its website. These acute psychological stress reactions are to be distinguished from the so-called post-traumatic stress disorders (traumatic neuroses). According to the ipu, the latter are expressed in repeated experiences of the traumatic event, intrusive memories, nightmares, emotional indifference and vegetative overexcitability. It would also avoid activities or situations that might remind you of what happened. In addition, according to the experts, those affected may develop depression and thoughts of suicide.
Up to 30 percent of accident witnesses struggle with psychological problems
How many witnesses of a serious accident actually have to deal with psychological problems due to the experience is quite controversial among the experts. Hanjo von Wietersheim of the emergency pastoral care of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria told the news agency "dpa" that most people who experience bad events process them relatively well. Many accident witnesses suffer from flashbacks and nightmares for up to two months, but according to Hanjo von Wietersheim, psychological help only needs up to four percent. The head of the Institute for Psychological Accident Aftercare in Cologne, Professor Wilfried Echterhoff, on the other hand, comes to a significantly different assessment in conversation with the "dpa". In his opinion, 30 percent of the accident witnesses need psychological help to process the traumatic experiences.
Lifetime damage from traumatic experiences
If the accident witnesses cannot process what has happened, “life-long damage threatens: massive fears, permanent incapacity to work, depression and feelings of helplessness”, explained the head of the IPU. His institute has a "nationwide network of therapists" and looks after around 50 people a year. In addition to nightmares, sleep disorders and often unwanted memories, the expert also cites an increase in tobacco, alcohol, drug or medication consumption as a long-term sign of a corresponding trauma. Those affected should urgently seek therapeutic help. However, the question of the assumption of costs also arises. Because the payment of psychological help for accident witnesses and first aiders is not clearly regulated, according to Professor Wilfried Echterhoff. For example, "in the event of accidents in public, the costs could be borne by the accident insurance fund of the respective federal state", but the polluter must also bear the costs, for example through his liability insurance. "Otherwise, the health insurance companies should pay, but they often cause difficulties," said the head of the IPU.
Emergency counseling helps on site
Hanjo von Wietersheim explained that further difficulties often result from the fact that "it is not possible to clearly assess on the spot whether an eyewitness will later need help from specialists or not." Immediately after the rescue operation, the level of adrenaline among the first aiders is usually still there so high that they are completely excited and only want to continue or go home as quickly as possible. "Then you are often alone with your terrible memories," von Wietersheim explained. Therefore, the employees of the well-connected emergency counseling service would distribute flyers in 16 languages at the accident sites, in which accident witnesses can find out who they can contact if they still need help later. "Emergency counseling in Bavaria records around 6,000 missions a year, two to three people are looked after intensively on site," von Wietersheim emphasized, adding: "We at Emergency Counseling do not leave people alone."
Accident witnesses want to get away from the scene as quickly as possible
The Federal Coordinator for Psychosocial Emergency Care (PSNV) of the German Red Cross, Michael Steil, confirmed that eyewitnesses to serious accidents often want to get away from the scene as quickly as possible. He “often heard of people who drove away and had to stop trembling 20 minutes later. Only then did they realize what happened to them, ”reports Michael Steil. Serious accidents are often very stressful for the witnesses because they can only cheer up the injured and wait for the emergency services to arrive. Sometimes this form of helplessness afterwards leads to considerable psychological stress for the accident witnesses. You blame yourself. "Anyone who helped to save a life or help an injured person" generally has fewer processing problems here, "explained Steil. Good first aid knowledge could not only help directly in the situation, but also give the accident witnesses the security of having acted to the best of their knowledge. The courses should be repeated every two to three years so that they are not forgotten, according to the PSNV federal coordinator.
Significant influence of the social environment on the processing of traumatic events
The social environment also has a significant influence on how accident witnesses process traumatic experiences, explained Michael Steil. Today, “fewer and fewer people are able to deal with such situations on their own.” It also plays a role here that “social networks are no longer as close-knit as they used to be.” According to Steil, there are many people today who live their everyday lives spend without community of others. In addition, for many, life is just fun and career making. Accordingly, they would never have dealt with death. In order to process the experiences of a serious accident, the accident witnesses should look for a diversion in the first days and weeks after the event, explained the PSNV federal coordinator. It is "important to do something good for yourself if you feel the need for it." According to the expert, physical activities can also have a positive effect. For example, a lot of sport should be done in the case of insomnia, because those who are physically exhausted fall asleep more easily, ”emphasized Steil. If the signs of a psychological stress disorder persist, the experience should be processed in a therapy, the Federal Coordinator for Psychosocial Emergency Care continues. (fp)
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