Traumatic events – even potential traumatic events – are powerful and upsetting incidents that impose significant stress on the mind and body of an individual. These experiences can be life threatening, perceived to be life threatening, and/or pose a significant threat to a person’s physical or psychological wellbeing and development.
Very frightening or distressing events may result in a psychological wound or injury. This trauma can make it difficult to cope later in a person’s life, preventing or disrupting adaptive emotional development and function in the social world. Often, interpersonal relationships are significantly impacted.
Situations and events that can lead to psychological trauma include:
- acts of violence such as an armed robbery, war or terrorism
- natural disasters such as bushfires, earthquakes or floods
- interpersonal violence such as rape, child abuse (inlcuding neglect), or the suicide of a family member or friend
- Bullying at school or in other social environments
- involvement in a serious motor vehicle or workplace accident
Other stressful situations which appear less severe may still trigger traumatic reactions in some people.
Symptoms of Trauma
Intense emotional or physical reactions following the experience of a traumatic event are typical and expected. It is when the mind and body continue to react in unhelpful, dysfunctional or maladaptive ways over a period of time (e.g., later in life) that a trauma diagnosis may be required, and treatment is necessary for recovery.
Symptoms of trauma can be described as physical, cognitive (thinking), behavioural (things we do) and emotional.
- Physical symptoms can include excessive alertness (always on the look-out for signs of danger), being easily startled, fatigue/exhaustion, disturbed sleep and general aches and pains.
- Cognitive (thinking) symptoms can include intrusive thoughts and memories of the event, visual images of the event, nightmares, poor concentration and memory, disorientation and confusion.
- Behavioural symptoms can include avoidance of places or activities that are reminders of the event, social withdrawal and isolation and loss of interest in normal activities.
- Emotional symptoms can include fear, numbness and detachment, depression, guilt, anger and irritability, anxiety and panic.