Immediately after experiencing an incident of occupational violence and aggression (OVA) a person may experience a range of psychological reactions that can be quite intense and distressing. Typically, these are relatively short-term reactions to a very stressful situation. People usually recover after exposure to OVA, and often with the practical and emotional support of others.

Initial reactions

These reactions are often most pronounced in the initial weeks following the incident and usually diminish over time.

Feelings

  • Irritable or 'on edge'
  • Afraid, sad or angry
  • Overwhelmed
  • Detached

Thoughts

  • Difficulty with attention and concentration
  • Difficulty making plans
  • Worrying more than usual
  • Unwanted memories or bad dreams related to the event
  • Constant questioning – 'What if I and others had done something different?' or 'What will happen now?'

Behavioural changes

  • Sleep problems
  • Withdrawal from others
  • Loss of sense of purpose at work
  • Avoiding situations that cause anxiety, particularly reminders of the incident

Longer-term reactions

For some people, OVA can have a significant impact on their psychological wellbeing. These reactions can vary in severity depending on a number of factors:
  • pre-existing health or mental health issues
  • prior exposure to incidents of OVA or other psychological trauma
  • the severity of the threat
  • the extent to which the person is dealing with other stressful experiences in their life.

Following exposure to OVA some people may develop a mental health problem such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, or they may start to use alcohol or other substances excessively. Effective psychological and medical treatments are available for these problems.

As a general rule, it's a good idea to encourage the person to seek professional help if they think that they are not coping, or they (or others) think they would benefit from speaking to a health professional. If someone who has experienced OVA exhibits the following signs, they may need to speak to a professional:

  • they aren't their usual self
  • their problems seem quite severe
  • their emotional reactions are not improving
  • they are having problems with day-to-day work or other activities
  • they are having problems getting along with others, such as colleagues, patients, family or friends.