Critical Incident Support

A Critical Incident (or Significant Event) is normally a traumatic event that creates a strong emotional reaction. This reaction may interfere with an individual’s ability to manage normal day-to-day activities or have a large negative impact on the people involved or community members that have in some way been involved. We have a large population of people from diverse backgrounds and experiences from all around the world. A caring and healthy community looks out for community members that may be impacted and responds with empathy and compassion.

Note: Health & Counselling also provides education, training, and consultation to assist campus community members in supporting suicidal students and students in distress. Call the front desk to connect.

People and communities are resilient. They often have the resources to manage the impact of a critical event without the intervention of a professional care provider. This is to be encouraged, as it helps people and communities build their resilience and coping skills, as well as confidence in these skills, on their own.

Resources to know about and share:

Student Services is available by contacting the Office of the Vice Provost Students & International at or 778.782.4170 to help with assessing and coordinating an appropriate response.

Examples of types of Critical Incidents:

  • Serious injury or death of a colleague, student, friend, child or other family member
  • Mass casualty incident (such as earthquakes or explosions)
  • Incidents involving excessive violence
  • A bad accident

What is Critical Incident stress?

  • A normal reaction to an abnormal event
  • Reactions vary between individuals and may include physical, emotional, cognitive, and behavioural factors
  • It may be evident immediately after a distressing event, or may not surface for hours, days, or weeks after the event
  • It is not a sign of human weakness

Signs and Symptoms of Critical Incident Stress


  • Sleep disorders
  • Eating disturbances
  • Nightmares
  • Headaches
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Chest pain
  • Increased heart rate/perspiration
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Decreased sexual drive


  • Guilt (about surviving or not doing more to help)
  • Grief/sorrow/denial
  • Panic/anxiety/fear
  • Depression
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Irritability/agitation
  • Loss of emotional control/inappropriate emotional response


  • Confusion/uncertainty
  • Blaming someone
  • Intrusive images
  • Flashbacks
  • Short-term memory problems
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Heightened/lowered alertness
  • Lack of concentration
  • Hypervigilance


  • Withdrawal
  • Crying spells
  • Loss of interest in normal activities
  • Increased use of drugs/alcohol
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Suspiciousness
  • Antisocial acts
  • Nonspecific bodily complaints
  • Inability to rest/pacing
  • Compulsive need to discuss incident


Below are some examples of common responses that can occur and are sometimes requested after a Critical Incident.  An initial assessment is important to determine what actions should be taken and when. A large event may require broader crisis response planning. Student Services can assist by coordinating various care supports from across campus.


  • Defusing is required if upon learning of a traumatic event a person needs immediate support to function 
  • Examples: uncontrollable or incapacitating grief or anger 
  • A person may need to be consoled, see a counsellor, or be with loved ones that can take care of them 
  • People who are close to the upset person are often the best to support them in the moment 
  • Resources on campus that can assist are Campus Safety & Security and Health & Counselling Services
  • Students also have 24/7 access to mental health supports through My SSP

Information Session or Town Hall

  • When people do not have enough info, they can sometimes come to the wrong conclusion, or engage in unhealthy information sharing
  • Information Session or Townhall is organized to provide known facts, clarify what cannot be shared yet - and when it will be, provide information about boundaries or why confidentiality may be required and supports that are available or will become available
  • The information shared may even be that there is a lack of information, and that more will be forthcoming
  • It is not meant as therapy, it is meant to bring together communities, such as a department and acknowledge that something significant is happening or just happened, and share resources 
  • Sometimes this information is enough to support a community
  • When it should happen: During an extended significant event, or after the event. It can be arranged fairly quickly, anytime within 48 hours
  • Who should put it on: It can be arranged by a departmental manager. Student Services can assist if required

Facilitated Support

Facilitated supports can range from informal arrangements to more formal, structured interventions. Every situation can be unique and may require a variety of supports, such as Health and Counselling, Interfaith, Security, Student Conduct or external resources, as well as coordinated planning and communications. Proper assessment is important.

These options can be explored in more details by contacting the Office of the Vice Provost Students & International at or 778.782.4170.

Quick tips

What you can do to help yourself

  • Talk to family, friends, counsellors, or others who you know and are comfortable around
  • Get plenty of rest. Get some exercise, even if it’s simply walking
  • Try keeping a journal to write down your thoughts and feelings
  • Maintain as normal a schedule as possible and structure your time to keep busy
  • Don’t make any major life decisions
  • Eat healthy meals and avoid drugs and alcohol

What you can do to help others

  • Listen, don’t judge
  • Accept that they will need space and time
  • Offer to lend a hand with everyday tasks
  • Don’t respond to their statements with, “You’re lucky...” - this will not console them
  • Reassure them that they are safe
  • Don’t take their anger or other negative feelings personally
  • Help people foster their personal resilience
  • If you feel that someone needs more help than you or their support network can provide, urge them to seek professional counselling
  • Mental Health Professionals can be engaged if support is required


It is important to be respectful and confidential of other people's private information at all times, and you should not share information unnecessarily. However, if you are concerned about the health, well-being or safety of a person, it is appropriate to contact Campus Safety & SecurityHealth & Counselling ServicesSFU Student Conduct Office or to escalate your concern to your supervisor.