Reactions to Critical Incidents

Individual being comforted.

While humans are extremely resilient, approximately 80 – 85% of those exposed to a critical incident will show noticeable symptoms within 24 hours. These are largely normal reactions to an abnormal event. Potential reactions might include…

  • High anxiety levels or overwhelming emotions.
  • Feeling out of control or feeling like you are in a fog.
  • Unwillingness to accept the situation.
  • Feelings of shock or feeling hysterical fear.
  • Unable to process things or wishing you could escape.
  • Intrusive images that won’t stop.

There are a number of ways that our bodies, minds, and emotions can respond to critical incidents. The three most prominent include an Acute Stress Reaction, an Acute Stress Disorder, or even Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Acute Stress Reaction (ASR)

An acute stress reaction is often referred to as shock. It is immediate and is often mixed with feelings of disbelief, denial, and fear. Our mind is overwhelmed with the reality of what has occurred and temporarily shuts down. An acute stress reaction can end within minutes or hours and never lasts more than a few days.

Acute Stress Disorder (ASD)

An acute stress disorder happens when the reaction we have to a traumatic event lasts more than a few days. Our brain remains fixated on the event(s) that has occurred and we are unable to move forward in our lives. An acute stress disorder is serious but usually ends within 30 days of the incident.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD can occur when a person is directly exposed to a traumatic event that threatens their life or the life of a loved one. The brain is unable to process the events in a healthy way so the person often begins to re-experience the details of what has occurred through intrusive thoughts, dreams, and/or images. PTSD occurs when the stressful reactions last more than one month following the critical incident.

Getting Help

Studies have shown that interventions in the hours and days following a critical incident may reduce the chance of developing PTSD. When faced with a critical incident, getting immediate, appropriate intervention can make a huge difference.

Help is available. The Benton County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) Crisis Response Team provides service to individuals, groups, and organizations in order to lessen the immediate and long-term adverse effects of a crisis. The team includes volunteers from the human service and helping professions  who have been specially selected and trained to provide this service to our community. Read more about the BCSO Crisis Response Team.