Second-hand shock may cause problems for first-responders in a crisis

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey
By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey
By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

PHOENIX --You've heard of second-hand smoke. Now we're hearing about a condition called "second-hand shock", something that first-responders can experience after helping in a crisis.

The experience of absorbing trauma, second-hand, is much the same as inhaling second-hand smoke. Helping people in trauma day after day is a contaminant that, if left unaddressed, can kill you. Bearing witness to someone else's trauma is dangerous.

It has been a rough few days, with a Phoenix firefighter and police officer losing their lives, followed by the devastation of the Oklahoma tornadoes.

Dr. Ellie Izzo is the co-author of the book "Second-Hand Shock: Surviving & Overcoming Vicarious Trauma." She says hard work and dedication can take a heavy toll on the helpers, leading to burn-out and compassion fatigue. Down the road, the "second-hand shock" can lead to more serious problems including depression, obesity, immune disorders, addiction, or anxiety.

"Our heroes are skillfully trained in the art and science of resilience," says Izzo. "Research shows that professionals that work in a community really do have the ability to bounce back. It's that attachment to community that helps our heroes heal in the aftermath."

But it can sometimes be a difficult thing to keep that resilience in the face of trauma, and control the empathetic response. "You can't automatically let your feelings come out," says Izzo. "The expectations on our heroes are very high."

Izzo stresses the importance of first responders take care of themselves by debriefing, creating safety zones, and not going "numb."

Second-Hand Shock: Surviving & Overcoming Vicarious Trauma is available on