A critical incident is an abnormal, traumatic event that causes psychological distress of sufficient impact that it disrupts a person’s usual coping responses and ability to function in a normal way.
Just how ‘critical’ an incident is to someone is determined by the intensity and severity of the experience, including:
- The amount of terror, horror, or injury
- The degree of destruction or loss
- The person’s level of exposure to the incident and whether their life was threatened
- The person’s role in the event, such as seeing or causing another person to be killed or injured
Critical incidents cause strong emotional reactions in people exposed, either directly or indirectly,
to the event.
Those who witnessed the incident may feel angry, fearful, or powerless.
Those who know the people involved may feel grief or guilt.
Others may feel responsible or may blame themselves for not doing more to prevent the incident or help the victims.
Experiencing powerful stress reactions of this nature can interfere with a person’s emotional, cognitive or behavioral functioning, either at the crisis scene or later, away from it.