Although helping out at a stranding can be an incredibly rewarding and positive experience, it can also be distressing and upsetting, regardless of whether the animals have been saved or not.
Memories of such events can be powerful and preoccupying, and your ability to cope effectively may depend on a number of things:
- Your general state of mind at the time of the stranding (you may already be feeling vulnerable or low)
- Previous experience of stressful events (these may either increase your resilience or make you more vulnerable)
- The length and circumstances of the stranding
- Availability of emotional support during and after the stranding
- The degree to which you were able to influence or control what was happening
Everyone’s experience will vary and people will react and respond differently.
It’s not uncommon for some to exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress after a stranding and indicators of this may include:
- Unexplained changes in either: mood (e.g. irritability, sense of hopelessness, guilt, feeling low); or behaviour (e.g. avoidance of others, excessive socialising, poor self-care)
- Sleep disturbance (too much/little; nightmares)
- Increased drug use (including alcohol, caffeine, nicotine)
- Not being able to control vivid visual recall of the stranding
- Calling us for a chat; we have a network of very experienced Marine Mammal Medics who can offer support and a listening ear
- Emailing us an account of your experience by reviewing the facts of what happened and giving your feedback on what you felt went well and what didn’t
- Taking time out for personal care, e.g. having a massage or facial
- Having some private personal space to reflect/meditate – but not isolate
- Talking about your experience with others, particularly those who have had the same or similar experiences. Talking to family and friends can be useful. At this time, you might start to talk more freely about how you’re feeling
- Writing poems or stories about your experience
- Looking at photos or videos from the stranding
You may not want to talk about your thoughts and feelings immediately afterwards. This is perfectly normal.
However, if memories of the stranding start to interfere with your daily life we recommend you talk to your GP or contact a professional trained in working with people who have experienced distressing events or trauma. Organisations, like Youthline (0800 376 633), provide free phone and face to face counselling. And if your work is also being affected, it may be possible to seek counselling through the Employees Assistance Programme.