For some though, that chaotic time of crisis is processed inside our brains and bodies as trauma, and that can disrupt our lives for much longer.
We all experience crisis in our lifetimes, whether that is something expected, such as death of a loved one who is much older than we are, or something unexpected and tragic. In the midst of it we feel overwhelmed and temporarily unable to cope. But for many people, with time and support, the crisis resolves.
For some though, that chaotic time of crisis is processed inside our brains and bodies as trauma, and that can disrupt our lives for much longer. While every trauma has a reaction to a very stressful crisis at its root, not every crisis has to be processed as a trauma. Why does this matter? And why is it so important now?
The dramatic increase in open antisemitism across the country and in our local community has many people on edge. The event that took place at Temple Beth El during their Early Childhood Education drop-off a few weeks ago sent shockwaves rippling through the community as it hit a little too close to home. While this is very disturbing on a societal level, for some, the impact is also concerning on an individual level.
When an Event is Processed as Trauma
When we see, hear or learn about an event such as the incident at Temple Beth El that is deeply disturbing, shocking and totally outside our normal experience, we feel unsafe. And the danger can be reinforced each time we read about it on social media, causing us to feel overwhelmed and helpless, triggering our built-in physiologic response to stress. This can impact us in a variety of ways ranging from disrupted sleep, anxiety, agitation, rapid, shallow breathing and a pounding heart to difficulty processing or remembering information, confusion, irritation, increased sadness or uncontrollable crying, to name just a few possible symptoms.
While people’s reactions can vary tremendously, be assured that the stress response is a normal reaction to an abnormal event. We are biologically hardwired to respond to stressful events in this way in order to act swiftly to keep ourselves safe and out of harm’s way. In short, stress isn’t just an emotion we feel, but it’s something that lives in our bodies.
The good news, though, is that for many people, these symptoms resolve on their own. But for some, symptoms can persist. These lingering signs of acute stress are not a sign of mental illness, but if unaddressed they can leave us more vulnerable to developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). However, a single conversation with a trained crisis intervention first responder can help people return to their normal baseline functioning much sooner and reduce the likelihood of developing PTSD. Luckily, expert help is readily available in the community.
Last year, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit brought members of the Israeli Trauma Coalition (ITC) to train a group of Jewish Family Service staff to become crisis responders. The Israeli Trauma Coalition, created in 2002, is a collaboration between the Israeli government and several nongovernmental agencies sharing expertise in the field of trauma, trauma prevention and recovery. With over 20 years of boots-on-the-ground practice in the region, the ITC, unfortunately, has a wealth of experience in crisis management and trauma intervention. Who better to prepare us to know how to help in the immediacy of an incident? The ITC returned again earlier this year to help JFS learn how to train others, both professionals and community members.
The JFS Crisis Response Team has been intervening when requested for months and plans to begin rolling out the training to others in early 2023 in hopes that there will be enough trained crisis responders in the community at some point that no community member will experience a crisis without assistance available within 48 hours.
How Does it Work?
For example, someone in the parking lot at Beth El at the time of the incident may have felt triggered and experienced a physiological stress response. This can happen to any person after such an experience, even with no history of mental health issues or prior trauma. To help prevent any long-term impact, a call could be made to JFS to request support from the Crisis Response Team. Ideally this takes place in the first 48 hours following a crisis, although there is no limit to when a person can reach out for help. Interventions typically happen as a one-time appointment, last no more than an hour, and often take place in a community setting. The crisis responder guides each person through a specific model designed to help them return to baseline functioning and provides resources for ongoing support if needed.
If you need support in the immediate aftermath of a crisis, please reach out to the JFS Crisis Response team at 248.592.2313.
Lynn Breuer, LMSW, CDP, is Senior Director of Community Outreach and Wellness at Jewish Family Service.