Diving & The Media 10 – Managing Post-Incident Stress

The following is an additional extract – an appendix – taken from the manual, ‘Diving & The Media: A Survival Guide’, that I completed in 1999 and whose purpose was to help dive industry professionals deal more effectively with negative publicity.

(Adapted from the detailed, Critical-Incident Stress De-briefing procedures followed by the HEMSI USART Team and re-produced with their kind permission.)

Because the immediate concern following a diving accident is for the victim, it’s often easy to overlook the needs of others who, either directly or indirectly, have been involved in the incident.

While stress is an unavoidable factor in our lives, the strong emotional reactions associated with a crisis situation have the potential to affect a person’s ability to function properly, either at the scene or later.

Everyone copes with a crisis in different ways.  All too often those who appear to be least affected are the very people who later require professional support and counselling.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders – the presence of symptoms lasting a month or more after the event – can manifest themselves in a number of ways, and include:

  • Continuously recurring and upsetting memories of the event
  • Recurrent and distressing dreams about the event
  • A sense of reliving the event, including flashbacks and hallucinations
  • Intense distress when exposed to anything that brings back memories of the event
  • An avoidance of those things that bring back memories of the event
  • A conscious effort to avoid thoughts or feelings associated with the event
  • The inability to recall important details of the event
  • A loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • A feeling of detachment
  • The inability to respond emotionally to normal situations
  • A heightened sense of one’s own mortality
  • An inability to properly relax
  • Difficulty in falling, or staying, asleep
  • Irritability and sudden outbursts of anger
  • A difficulty in concentrating
  • A constant feeling of alertness
  • An exaggerated response to, for example, sudden and unexpected noises

Preventing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – especially when, for example, a diver has been involved in a diving fatality – is best accomplished by a post-incident de-briefing.

The ‘Hot Debrief’ is held as soon as possible after the incident and should be conducted out of sight and hearing of anyone not directly involved with the event.  It should be led by the operator, or diving supervisor; last for as long as is necessary and allow anyone who wishes to do so, the opportunity to speak and be listened to.

It is a ‘venting’ process, and one that allows the people concerned an emotional outlet by providing the opportunity to say things that they don’t necessarily believe or feel – or that they would want to have repeated back to them at a later stage.

A ‘Formal Debrief’ should be held 24 – 72 hours after the incident when the ‘Hot Debrief’ has failed to meet the emotional needs of the individual.  A trained professional should conduct it and everyone involved in the incident should attend.



Categories: Crisis Manual

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