The Warning Signs
| American Journalism Review
| From AJR, January/February 1999|
The Warning Signs
COVERING DISASTER AND DEATH CAN take its toll on journalists. The reporter who witnesses or experiences a so-called ``critical incident,'' and who has no opportunity to psychologically unload, runs the risk of a stress-induced ailment, according to the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation Inc. In rare instances, this can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Maryland-based foundation, representing about 5,000 mental health professionals and emergency services personnel, outlines symptoms and suggests methods for coping. More details are available on its Web site (www. icisf.org/CIS.html).
Symptoms fall into four categories:
Cognitive: poor concentration and poor attention span, memory problems, difficulty making decisions
Physical: muscle tremors, chest pain, difficulty breathing, headaches, high blood pressure
Emotional: a sense of guilt, grief, depression, anxiety or fear, or feeling lost or overwhelmed
Behavioral: withdrawal, increased alcohol consumption, sleep disturbances, changes in eating or work habits.
Any of these symptoms may indicate the need for medical evaluation, the foundation stresses. It also recommends that an individual who has experienced a critical incident, even secondhand, should: Talk to people. Talk is healing medicine. Be aware of numbing pain with overuse of alcohol or drugs. Understand that some recurring thoughts, dreams or flashbacks are normal and usually will fade over time. If they don't, they may signal problems serious enough to warrant professional intervention. Recognize that stress is a normal reaction; don't label yourself as crazy.###