Indicators of a Crisis
Experiences in life are subjective for each individual. Therefore, what one person may experience as a crisis, another may not. The level of a person’s resilience, skill or experience will determine their subjective experience. However, there are factors that will determine an individual’s perception of whether or not an experience rises to the level of a crisis.
A crisis will be stressful and/or disruptive. If an event does not overwhelm the individual’s coping skills, the person is less likely to perceive the event as a crisis. If the event is not disruptive to their environment or functioning, it is less likely to be perceived as a crisis. However, an event that impairs the individual’s ability to function physically, psychologically or socially, or disrupts the environment has the potential to create a crisis.
A crisis may be in response to a hazardous event. Natural disasters, such as a tornado, hurricane, flood or tsunami can overwhelm an individual, community or region physically, psychologically and socially, creating widespread crisis conditions. Natural life events, such as the death of a loved one, birth of a baby, marriage, unexpected pregnancy or retirement can trigger crisis. Manmade, deliberate acts of violence can be particularly traumatic, such as sexual assault, arson, murder, and acts of war or terrorism. Other events commonly associated with crisis are adolescent pregnancy, sudden absence of a key family member (through divorce or military deployment), cultural dislocation, disabling or life-threatening illness or injury, and any other drastic environmental change.
An indicator that an individual may be experiencing a crisis is that he or she reports a threat. The threat may not be of a violent nature and involve the individual’s loss of a sense of integrity or autonomy, loss of a job, spouse, home, reputation or status. The threat may involve being a crime victim, experiencing gang violence, being in a war zone, witnessing or being a victim of terrorism or another violent event.
A challenge to the individual may indicate a crisis. If the individual experiences a challenge that involves anxiety over the possibility of failure in the immediate future, a crisis can result. The challenge may be not performing adequately on a new job or failing an exam that is crucial to the individual’s future.
Losses often trigger crisis. Asking if the person has experienced a loss that resulted in emotions associated with the grieving process or involved with an acute sense of deprivation can uncover elements of a personal crisis. Issues associated with death, divorce, or moving away from one’s homeland are examples of triggers for this type of crisis.
Individuals who typically function at a high level find themselves unable to cope with seemingly minor tasks. When in crisis, the body musters all resources toward survival. Non-necessary survival activities are considered irrelevant and the brain does not attend to them. So, people find they cannot remember simple things, such as three items for the grocery store. Crisis may be marked by confusion, depression, physical symptoms (gastro-intestinal upset, headache, nausea, difficulty breathing), anxiety, anger or impaired social functioning.
During a crisis, individuals have a sharp reduction in their overall ability to cope. Problem-solving skills are limited, and they are vulnerable to further psychological stressors. The ability to defend themselves is decreased, making them an easy target for scam artists, such as during Katrina, falling prey to those offering easy money when financial times are hard.
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