What is Trauma
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event.” Although these emotions may be in response to an event, individuals may find any event traumatic if they perceive it to be physically or emotionally threatening.
Trauma occurs in response to a highly stressful event and can cause a range of physical and emotional symptoms. Stressful things that people may find traumatic include being in an accident, being a victim of crime, being in a war zone, or in a natural disaster.
There are different levels of trauma, and people may experience symptoms differently. For example, what grievously affects one person, may not affect another at all. There are also different types of trauma, with varying degrees of severity. In addition to this, symptoms may develop and resolve after just a few weeks, while the effects may be long-term for others.
A person experiencing trauma may feel a wide range of emotions, both straight after the event and long-term. These emotions may include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Flashbacks of the traumatic event
In addition to emotional responses, some people may experience physical symptoms in response to trauma. These may include:
- Stomach aches and digestive issues
- Rapid heart rate
- Trouble sleeping
What Counts as Trauma
Research states that at least 60-75% of people in North America will experience some form of trauma in their lifetime.
The following can be potential causes of trauma:
- Traffic collisions
- Sexual assault
- Natural disasters
- Life-threatening illness
- The loss of a loved one
- Psychological, sexual, or physical abuse
- Acts of terrorism
These events can be isolated or may be ongoing. Trauma can also be experienced if a person witnesses something traumatic happening to someone else.
When the symptoms of trauma worsen in the weeks or months after the stressful event, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop. PTSD is a distressing and often debilitating mental illness that can interfere with the sufferer’s ability to live a normal, fulfilled life.
Symptoms of PTSD include extreme anxiety, panic attacks, flashbacks, and avoidance behaviors.
Risk factors for trauma to develop into PTSD include:
- Repeated trauma
- Childhood trauma
- Physical pain or injury as a result of the trauma
- Little or no support after the traumatic event
- Previous anxiety or depression
Many people who experience trauma do not go on to develop PTSD.
To lower the risk of trauma developing into PTSD, or for the person to develop a substance abuse problem as a way of coping, it is best to seek treatment immediately following the traumatic event.
Several types of treatment exist to treat trauma.
The first and best means of trauma treatment is therapy. Ideally, the person must work with a therapist who specializes in trauma counseling.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy that can be very effective when used to treat a trauma patient. CBT helps people change their thought patterns to help them find more effective coping mechanisms.
Simply having someone to talk to about the event in order to work through emotions can help.
Medication is sometimes used to treat anxiety, depression, or problems sleeping that may occur due to trauma. It is important to note that medication alone cannot cure trauma. Medication should only be taken if prescribed by a medical doctor.
When to Get Help
It is essential to seek help immediately after experiencing trauma, even if the individual is not sure that they will need it. It is better to speak to a professional trauma counselor or mental health professional to ensure that symptoms do not worsen. Even those with mild symptoms can feel better if talking to someone about their experience.
Getting help for trauma is even more imperative if trauma symptoms persist or become more severe.
Get Help for Mental Illness
Many people will experience a traumatic event at some point in their lives. Some may experience mild symptoms of shock and will recover quickly. Others will find it hard to cope, and symptoms may worsen. They may turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with their emotions.
Whether you need help finding the right mental health center or help with substance abuse resulting from trauma, we can guide you on the road to recovery.