*TRIGGER WARNING* This post is about empowering people to respond to crisis situations (both from a physical and emotional trauma perspective), stepping in to help until the EMS arrives. THE FIRST 7 MINUTES CAN BE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH.
Life can be scary.
My husband grew up in a family that likes to know what’s going on in the world. He grew up reading newspapers, his parents still check the obituaries daily, and at one point early on in our relationship, our home tabs and bookmarks on our computer were all set to different news channels (that practice was banned pretty quickly).
With this practice, I found that we were in a constant state of heaviness, both of us feeling the weight of the world on our shoulders. And with the ever evolving technology advancements, and constant flow of terror attacks and hate crimes, there was a gloomy, and thick cloud permeating our lives.
I totally understand the desire to be worldly.
I totally understand the drive to read the news and know what’s going on in our world.
But I also strongly believe in boundaries (I mean, now I do).
It is so important to create boundaries around things like this, that can cause us to feel trauma symptoms, even when we are nowhere near the scene of the incident (this is a much bigger topic that I will leave for a follow-up post by an expert. You can also watch our Mental Health Monday live with Bassya Pessin, LCSW who spoke on this topic).
It’s important to be aware that the news was created to sell. Drama sells. Pain sells. When the news apps and sites are posting, they are trying to create a viral sense of panic. Keep people glued to their screens. It is self-serving, and can cause us tremendous unnecessary added suffering. We sometimes forget that “knowing” in-and-of-itself does not serve much of a purpose. It does however, have the ability to suck us into a vortex of depression and hopelessness if we are not careful.
Even when we put up boundaries and do everything “right”, much of what happens to us is not within our control. The more we hear about terrorism and tragedies (and for many of us, experience it personally), the easier it is to get weighed down by fear. And while emergency situations do happen, they are less common than you think (as Rachel Tuchman said in her video about talking to kids about crises).
It really does seem like a lot more is happening these days. Perhaps it's because there is a concept of “6 degrees of separation” (in the Jewish world, there is really only 2 degrees). With the increased awareness of hate crimes, shootings and stabbings all over the world, someone always knows someone who knows someone who was in a specific attack.
These attacks feel so close to home. We don’t actually want to shut them out.
We want to be there for people.
We want to do something. We want to help in whatever way we can.
Why is that? Why are we pulled into this desire to know and care and do, even when we don't know people personally?
So, there is a flip-side, that I’m not sure that I thought about back in those days of attempted banning the news from our lives...
Pain and suffering also has a way of connecting us.
Somehow it makes us feel more united, and enhances our ability to bond with other people. Tragedy can sometimes be a catalyst for peace, helping us put aside our differences with those we would normally stay away from or fight with.
Maybe that’s why we are so attracted to it...
Perhaps it fills some sort of inner void, a longing for connection, an attachment bond?
We know that it can be extremely therapeutic to write and speak about our pain with others. It can also be therapeutic to read about the struggles of other people. Sharing stories helps us understand people better, and thereby, understand ourselves better. When stories are framed methodically, and shared with the right people, at the right time, vulnerability and authenticity can connect us (for more on this, read Brene Brown's book Rising Strong).
How do we make sure that we stay balanced in this unbalanced world of TMI (too much information)? How do we walk the perfect tightrope line between too much and not enough connection with the world around us?
If you know me at all, you might guess that my answer has something to do with being proactive ;)
I obviously don't have all the answers, but I do have a few suggestions. I would also love for people to post some of their own ideas in the comments below.
OK, so there are the obvious actions that we can take... like prayer. That's always helpful... but I want to give you a bit of insight into some other proactive measures that have been less talked about in our community, but thankfully are becoming a lot more common.
Proactive Mental Health & Awareness
Britt Frank shared on her Mental Health Monday live interview that trauma can be triggered by anything that happens “too much, too soon, or too fast for our nervous system to handle”. Which means that we never know when trauma can hit. When we get triggered or traumatized, it is certainly helpful to know some mental health first aid strategies, not only to support other people, but to have some tools for ourselves.
No matter what, in a mental health emergency, time is of the essence. CALL YOUR LOCAL EMERGENCY NUMBER IN A CRISIS. If you are not sure if it's an emergency, it's always better err on the side of caution. Your MHFA can really help to support someone in a crisis until help arrives.
Just to be clear… mental health first aid is NOT therapy. It is literally like CPR but for mental health. It buys time.
I have taken the course myself, and Shoshana Mehler (my Proactive Partner) actually teaches it, so if you want to hire her to come out to your community or school, it’s a really valuable skill for all ages.
Proactive Emergency Response Skills
Gaining knowledge and skills to help others physically in crisis situations is so important.
This week, I attended a Magen David Adom training called “The First 7 minutes” led by Dr. Stan Herman, who is one of their Toronto volunteers. My mom, Nancy Somer and my friend Debbie Strub organized it. I am so proud of them!
This program that MDA is running all over the world is meant to minimize the response time for life threatening medical emergencies. In crisis situations, time is of the essence, and good samaritans knowing what to do in an emergency can be the difference between life and death.
I highly recommend bringing this program to your community! There was so much to learn, even if you are a medical professional. There were a few of those there.
I won’t be doing this course justice, but I wanted to share a few of the key points so that until you take this course yourself, you at least have a bit of an action plan in case of emergency.
Here goes... In any crisis, take the following steps;
1. Safety - Your safety takes precedence over anybody else. You will not be able to help anyone if you put yourself in harm's way. Similar to the idea that they tell you on airplanes... in case of emergency, put your own mask on before assisting others. Quickly assess the situation, and do your best to remove yourself from immediate danger. Then you can assess if the coast is clear to help other people.
2. Call for help - Call your local emergency number. This bit of information was really interesting. I asked Dr. Herman about communities with hatzala, if they should be the go-to call. I was actually surprised that he answered yes. If your community has hatzalah, they will call EMS for you. The advantage of calling them first is that their response time can be 50 - 80% faster than other EMS services. This buys critical time, because they can do a lot of the preliminary stuff that time makes a huge difference for.
3. Check around for other supports - If you are safe, check to see if anyone who is in the crowd has medical or emergency training that is more advanced than yours. If there is someone more qualified than you, step back and help in other ways. Or allow them to deal with the more critical cases while you support the less critical ones.
4. Tag - Sort out who has been hurt, assess and tag who is in the worst state of emergency. (they don’t use the word triage in this course, because it implies medical support, but essentially you are triage-ing who is in the most critical condition when you tag). Deal with worst injuries first. Learning to decipher which cases are the most critical is part of a bigger training that is most definitely worth taking.
5. Share - Share your report with the EMS when they come on the scene.
6. Help - Help them as needed (like holding an iv bag or whatever else they could use civilian help with).
A few more really really helpful tips that Dr. Herman shared;
Try to stay calm - Ok, so you can't EVER tell anyone else to calm down, because that usually just makes things worse... but you can practice some deep breathing exercises for yourself, that can help you find a clam place while mid-crisis... to help you deal with whatever you have to deal with in a more methodical way.
Always keep airways clear - You don’t want anyone to choke on their own fluids.
Keep talking - Keep talking to the people in shock. They need to stay awake.
Don’t pull out any objects - If there is a knife or object stuck in a person, DON'T PULL IT OUT. The blood can clot around it. Let the EMS deal with it when they come. Pulling it out can cause worse damage.
Stop the bleeding - If there are other open wounds, it is critical to stop the bleeding ASAP. If the wound is deep, you can pack it with literally anything lying around (don’t worry about infection. The doctors can give antibiotics later). We often have items that can be helpful just lying around in our bags or even on us. Tampons, socks, scarves… Once the wound is packed, wrap really tightly with some sort of fabric available (a sleeve from a shirt, a pant leg, a scarf…) and put lots of pressure. Compress, and make a tourniquet. For larger limbs, it needs to be wide fabric. For smaller limbs like fingers, you can use a hair elastic.
I honestly did not do this program justice with my little synopsis, but I hope that I at least gave you something to think about. Hopefully you now feel empowered to arm yourself with lots of proactive tools.
And through all of this introspection, I recognized that there are many factors in life that we cannot change. Horrible things happen. And you know what… even after learning all this, I know that there is a good chance I would freeze in an emergency and be completely useless. It’s actually in my nightmares.
But the thing about learning and practicing is that it helps us internalize and automate our responses.
When we go into fight or flight mode, we rely on the auto-pilot parts of our brains.
Remember the first time you ever drove a car? I remember my first time... I was in a constant state of panic at first. I kept slamming on the breaks and felt like I was going to crash every time I practiced. I thought I would never learn to drive. But with lots of practice, I became a pro driver. Seriously, I have done 24 hour road trips with my family. I even sometimes arrive safely at places without even remembering how I got there (I know, that’s bad. I’m working on the mindfulness thing). Anyways, that's what automation is. When we practice responding to emergency situations, we can help train our brains to function on auto-pilot if our logic ever kicks out in a crisis.
The more proactive we can be as a community, the better.