Relevance of a research is conditional upon the need to develop modern approaches to the prevention of mental maladjustment and increase in stress resistance under extremely stressful conditions. When stress factors occur extremely threatening, overwhelming or severe, such situation often triggers a heightened state of cognitive, emotional and behavioral arousal. After having been exposed to traumatic stress, employees may experience reactions such as deterioration of job performance, personality change, anxiety states, relationship discord, grief reactions, depression and suicidal ideations. In general, it is characteristic of such professions as police service, firefighters etc., who by nature of their activities are responsible for localization of the effects of extreme situations. Such consequences, i.e. effects, can appear immediately, later or one after another. In our research we consider critical incident stress (CIS) and its negative impact on employees. Researches of Kardiner, Solomon, Pierson, Mitchell, Rose and other authors show that CIS is characterized by a wide range of emotional, physical, cognitive and behavioral signs and symptoms in response to a crisis event. We consider what stress management, as a part of support system for reliability of human resources in various fields, could recommend in order to minimize the CIS in critical situations.
Dealing with Stress and Violence in the Workplace
Stress Tolerance of a personality is necessary not only to ensure public order and security of life of a population in extreme conditions (Kardiner, 1978), but also to the vitality and social adaptation (Mitchell & Dyregrow, 1993). Preliminary analyses of the problem let us assume that a protracted stay and functioning of the individual in extreme conditions are the cause of stress reactions that contribute to the depletion of adaptive capacity and often contribute to the development of mental and physical disorders. Nowadays the study of the factors that counteract the damaging effects of stress and help to improve individual stress is the most urgent one. Solving of the question may not only contribute to improving the mental and physical state of individuals, but also prevent other violations related to their professional activities.
Breaking the psychological and physiological human adaptability, apparently stress contributes to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder. According to doctors (not psychiatrists) of Germany, France and Austria, in 25% of people going to the doctor psychovegetative disorders, functional disorders of organs, psychosomatic disorders and depression are detected. Under the influence of chronic or constantly repeated stress a depressive, hypochondriac, anxious personality may face a high risk of the development of alcoholism, drug addiction, suicidal behavior, which are secondary effects of stress symptoms. Moreover, acute or chronic stress can provoke symptoms of mental disorders such as epilepsy, schizophrenia, etc. (Solomon, Mikulincer & Flum, 1988).
When talking about a moderate stress, it can have positive impact on mobilization of operational actions of, for example a police officer. However, a strong and long-lasting stress generally has a detrimental effect on the mental and physical condition as well as reduces the effectiveness of performance management. In literature, this kind of stress is called “critical incident stress” (CIS). Being of high intensity, it leads to the development of suspicion, depression, suicidal tendencies, and the effects of stress may also have an adverse impact on wives and children of employees.
Studies of professional stress basing on the experience of special police officers have noted the development of conditions such as reactive anxiety, emotional and psychomotor disruption of tension, anxiety, nervousness, emotional and verbal aggression, anger and tides. Quite often stressful situations lead to exacerbation of previously existing chronic diseases and the emergence of a number of psychosomatic diseases – hypertension, back pain, stomach cramps, headaches, heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, neurosis and psychosis (Black, 1991).
T. Pierson (1989) showed that the CIS affects up to 87% of all emergency service workers who suffer from long-term emotional traumas, which adversely affect their suitability for service and cause serious problems in their personal lives. In addition, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services presents a description of a set of traumas (special, critical and catastrophic), each of which demands a different level of response. CISD policy contains all the details.
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the examples of critical incidents in the workplace are:
- An employee shooting in the workplace a supervisor.
- Workers who become witnesses of an industrial accident with death of one of their co-workers.
- An attorney of a law firm who committed suicide over the weekend.
- Bank officials during masked robbery.
- A city vehicle accidentally runs over a pedestrian who dies in front of the eyes of other city employees.
- Air-traffic controllers who are unable to cope with major airline disaster and see the crash of the plane, etc.
Actually, all the professions can present their own list of worst case scenarios that can be characterized as critical incidents.
It is impossible to disagree with T. Pierson (1989), who believes that in order to minimize the CIS it is reasonable to:
- Accept the fact that there is CIS existing and it impacts the course of the career of the vast majority of employees. This allows administrators to organize training in the CIS.
- Understand what the CIS is, they will find the courage to vent their emotions, without being afraid of criticism or ridicule.
- Train the chiefs to recognize potential symptoms of CIS among employees and help them to know the possibilities of aid after the big event.
American psychologists who monitored the military during World War II noted that without the alarm only a quarter of soldiers operated properly and freely. Among the rest, severe anxiety and fear for their lives were revealed, and so they died more often than those who managed to get rid of the fear (Mitchell & Bray, 1990).
Nowadays scientists (Rose, Bisson & Wessley, 2002) believe that feelings of anxiety or fear, which took place in anticipation of danger, can be transformed into other emotional states: the “triumph” of the forthcoming victory, experience of fun, daring, aggressive, angry state, etc.
It is a foregone conclusion that psychologists and therapists should participate in the process of conscious transformation of fear and anxiety into an emotional state with positive effects.