Author: AD Gladu
Key Contributors: AD Gladu, Amanda Yates, April Neal, Diane Porthouse Lochner, Emily Howard, Melissa Rivera Torres, Josh Rodriguez, Steffaney Martin, Tiffany Rawson
What is PTSD?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition initiated by either experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event, like sexual assault, combat, natural disasters, violent crime, or accidents. In the United States, about 10% of women and 4% of men will develop PTSD sometime in their lives.¹
According to the Mayo Clinic², PTSD symptoms are generally grouped into four types:
- Intrusive Memories – flashbacks/reliving the event, nightmares, severe emotional distress, or physical reaction to something that reminds you of the trauma
- Avoidance – avoiding thinking or talking about the event; avoiding places, activities, or people that remind you of the event
- Negative Changes in Thinking and Mood – detachment, hopelessness, difficulty maintaining close relationships, memory issues
- Changes in Physical and Emotional Reactions – easily startled or frightened, always on guard, self-destructive behavior, feelings of irritability, anger, aggression, guilt, shame
Many individuals manage their PTSD symptoms by reducing stress and staying away from activities, people, and locations that trigger these life-hindering reactions.
Crowds, Confinement, & Combustion
For destination operators, nothing says success like a crowd! For individuals with PTSD, crowds can be triggering—they limit visibility and they restrict choices, including how swiftly one may exit. Many people with PTSD crave open space where they can see what is coming and choose how to approach or avoid it.
Unexpected sounds, lights, and touches can also cause discomfort. Most destination operators today are aware that fireworks can be triggering to veterans with PTSD, but a character jumping out in front of a violence survivor, or gruesome Halloween-themed imagery to a young victim of abuse may be just as triggering.
Trauma happens to us: we do not choose it. And though it can be argued that guests opt-in to a destination’s experience when they buy a ticket, that does not give us carte blanche to bombard our guests without giving them the chance to say no, all along the way and all throughout the day.
Opportunities for Improvement
Expectations, Exits, & Education
Trauma shatters our sense of security, making us feel helpless in a dangerous world.³ Giving guests control over their environments may contribute to a more positive experience.
- Maps detailing the location of a pop-up character, a trap door, or a tight squeeze may allow individuals with PTSD to relax and enjoy the artistry of a “surprise” moment instead of feeling an uncomfortable and unwanted adrenaline rush.
- Clearly marked exits and ready access to open spaces may encourage a sense of certainty and safety.
- Holding a guest’s place in line if they step away for a breath of air may give a sense of justice to a challenging situation.
And, as always, compassion is never misplaced. Training staff to recognize signs of PTSD and empowering them with actionable choices will contribute to a more wonderful day for everyone, and maybe even a more wonderful world.
Want to learn more about designing for other cognitive disorders? Check out the links below for more information.
- Veteran’s Administration – www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/common/common_adults.asp
- Mayo Clinic – https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355967#:~:text=PTSD%20symptoms%20are%20generally%20grouped,vary%20from%20person%20to%20person.
- Help Guide – https://www.helpguide.org/articles/ptsd-trauma/coping-with-emotional-and-psychological-trauma.htm
Applied Cognitive Ergonomics Lab – http://acelab.tamu.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/23/2018/07/Khanade-et-al._Architecture_HFES18_Final.pdf
Carrington College – https://carrington.edu/blog/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd-invisible-scars/
Committee on Temporary Shelter – https://cotsonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Trauma-Informed-Design.BOD_.pdf
The American Institute of Architects – https://www.aia.org/pages/22356-designing-for-invisible-injuries-an-explorat?tools=true
Verywell Mind – https://www.verywellmind.com/coping-with-ptsd-2797536