Critical Incidents

It can be difficult to see your loved one in distress or acting out-of-character.  Attending emergency incidents can be traumatic and it’s normal to have an emotional response.  As we know, given the nature of the policing your loved one may witness harrowing situations, it’s vital we make sure the right support is available to encourage appropriate coping mechanisms and healing. 

Research tells us that in around 85% of individuals, recovery from exposure to critical incidents usually occurs in the weeks following the experience.  In some cases more focused support from a psychologist may be needed to promote recovery.


As a loved one you may notice adverse reactions or emotional distress after an incident.  To better understand the warning signs, here is what you can look out for: 

  • Avoidance of things associated with the incident including not being prepared to talk about what happened, preferring not to interact with people associated with it, or avoiding the location in which the incident took place

  • Physiological arousal such as being agitated, easily startled or irritable

  • Negative changes in their outlook towards themselves (‘I should have done more’), others (’no one can be trusted’), or the world in general (‘no one is safe’)

  • Distractibility, as images and thoughts about the incident may pop in and out of their mind without warning; sometimes to the point they believe they are back at the incident for a moment. 


Here are some recommendations about how you can support your loved one:

  • Be patient

  • Be willing to listen when they want to talk about what is happening for them

  • Encourage them to seek support either from friends or a professional

  • Let them know you are there when they are ready to talk, or to just be beside them to sit in silence

  • Encourage them to get back into their normal routine, making sure they have interests and outlets beyond work such as spending time as a family, connecting with friends, sleeping well, good nutrition and regular exercise.


Starting an open and honest conversation can be a positive step towards recovery.  Here are some ways you can approach the topic with your loved one.

  • Ask what is happening for them and listen in a non-judgemental way

  • Describe what you have noticed and why it worries you

  • Listen with compassion and be comfortable with periods of silence

  • Ask them directly what they need from you and how you can best support them

  • Help them seek professional support: you may even be able to help make the appointment.


If you are concerned about the wellbeing of your loved one or simply need some advice, contact the independent counselling service (Employee Assistance Program) that is free for WA Police Force personnel and their immediate family members 1300 687 327 or  call Health, Welfare and Safety on 6229 5615 (8am to 4pm, Monday to Friday) or emails Police Family Support.