In this information sheet we explain vicarious trauma, including the symptoms and risk factors.
Vicarious trauma is a psychological condition developed after extended contact and involvement with other people who have been subjected to trauma. Frontline health care workers, police and child protection providers are at high risk.
For health care workers, vicarious trauma may develop as the result of one traumatic episode or often over time as the result of the continued exposure to patients who have suffered traumatic accidents or suffer from debilitating conditions. Repeatedly dealing with traumatised patients can impact negatively on the mental health of health care worker.
The worker may experience disruption to five key areas of:
4. Intimacy; and
The health care worker suffering from vicarious trauma will often become overwhelmed by the exposure to patient trauma eventually leading to intrusive reactions such as nightmares, physiological responses, obsessive thoughts, numbing and avoidance responses that cause dysfunction in both their work and private lives.
The following working conditions are considered risk factors for vicarious trauma:
· High trauma workloads;
· Inadequate training and orientation;
· Worker/job mismatch;
· Failure to take annual or personal leave;
· Poor quality supervision; and
· Lack of a co-ordinated support system.
With the emergence of novel infectious diseases occurring all over the world, health care workers face a new risk of developing vicarious trauma. Pandemics mean that health care workers are potentially faced with large numbers of gravely ill patients and situations they have not dealt with previously, as well as the possibility of contracting a life threatening infection in the course of their employment.
It would appear that Australia is on the verge of a pandemic with COVID-19. The contraction of this virus does not exhibit immediate symptoms after exposure and is a highly efficient transmitter during this time. This puts health care workers among the highest risk groups for contracting the virus.
Pandemic viruses pose a new way of causing vicarious trauma to health care workers by:
· Constant contact with distressed patients who are suspected of having COVID-19;
· Higher workloads; and
· Stress associated with the potential risk of accidentally transmitting the virus to family members.
If you believe you are suffering from vicarious trauma, you should seek legal advice from a lawyer experienced in dealing with work-related psychological issues.
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