See Inside December 2005

Responding to Katrina Trauma

Psychologists often find it difficult to help first responders —police, firefighters and emergency medical personnel —overcome emotional scars that arise after witnessing terrible scenes of death and injury. Hurricane Katrina may have increased the complexity of post-traumatic treatment even further.

After the hurricane, emergency personnel had to work endless hours, witness people die in their arms, and stumble over drowned bodies underwater at their feet. But as many of them noted in televised interviews, what made matters far worse was feeling powerless. Trained to save lives, they had to walk past people dying on hot highways because the victims were past the point of no return and time could not be lost in finding others who still had a chance. Some police heard fellow officers’ final cries for help over police radios as they drowned in raging floodwaters. At least two police officers were so distressed at their own helplessness that they committed suicide.

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