Explore what trauma is, how it affects psychological wellbeing, and how it can be coped with – both for individuals and healthcare workers.
Trauma is something that affects many people in the world today. The National Council estimates that up to 70% of American adults have experienced a traumatic event in their lives, while Mind estimates that 4.4% of people in England suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, trauma is back in the headlines – as both patients and healthcare workers begin their journey to physical and mental recovery.
Now, the University of Glasgow have launched a new microcredential ‘Impact of Trauma on Mental Health’ that explores what trauma is, and how it can be treated.
This microcredential is the ideal introduction to the timely topic of trauma, and will help healthcare workers – including carers, councillors, therapists, and allied healthcare workers – gain accredited training in this vital subject.
What is trauma?
The word ‘trauma’ means ‘wound’ in Ancient Greek. Trauma typically occurs as a result of an event that overwhelms an individual’s capacity to cope. Such events can cause or threaten to cause severe injury or death.
A traumatic event can range from bereavement to natural disasters, but they can have a common long-lasting negative impact on mental wellbeing if left unchecked.
Survivors of trauma often relive a traumatic event throughout their lives. This ‘fight or flight’ reaction is a logical bodily response to the fear created by the initial crisis. Unfortunately, untreated trauma can seriously affect a person’s ability to move freely through life.
Types of trauma in the modern world
We live in an unstable and uncertain world. Behind the headlines detailing a society dealing with intersecting geopolitical, economic, and health crises, are many stories of individual trauma.
Refugees, asylum seekers, and other ‘displaced’ or ‘stateless’ persons have been shown to be more likely to have experienced acute and cumulative trauma – and to be much more susceptible to developing an acute stress disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
There are also concerns about the lasting traumatic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Leading psychiatrists have urged NHS bosses to regularly screen survivors of COVID-19 for the symptoms of PTSD, underlining the importance of mental health – as well as physical – in recovery from critical care.
What are the symptoms of dealing with trauma?
There are many different signs that someone could be struggling to deal with trauma. These could include:
- Poor concentration
- Intrusive memories and thoughts
- Anxiety and panic
- Physical symptoms: racing heart, headaches, stomach aches
- Development of mental disorder, including PTSD.
The role of healthcare workers
Healthcare workers can play an important role in helping people manage their mental response to a traumatic event – either preventing a traumatic episode from triggering PTSD or helping people overcome PTSD itself.
There are many psychological interventions available to assist those dealing with trauma. These are often called ‘trauma-focused psychotherapies’ and include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), emotion-focused therapy, psychodynamic therapy, group therapies, and exposure therapies.
CBT is available from the NHS in England, and via private healthcare providers elsewhere. CBT seeks to help people regain a sense of control over their present environment, looking for practical ways to improve daily life.
Furthermore, healthcare workers can themselves fall victim to trauma and PTSD. This is a particular concern for those carers on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Experts believe health care workers as a group could develop high rates of anxiety, depression, substance use issues, acute stress and, eventually, post-traumatic stress as a result of what they are experiencing on the pandemic front lines”.
Just as healthcare workers can aid those dealing with trauma, so they too need to understand how to receive support, and develop positive coping mechanisms.
How coping can help
Coping is key to mitigating the potentially psychologically damaging impact of trauma. While there are recommended ways to channel the pain of trauma into positive behaviour, each individual has their own coping mechanisms for dealing with traumatic events.
Some coping strategies are negative – withdrawing from the pain of emotion, using drugs or alcohol to escape negative memories.
Others can be positive – proactively seeking therapy to deal with a traumatic event, or searching for a renewed sense of meaning and purpose, that can safely locate trauma as part of a ‘broader’ life narrative.
This could involve volunteering – helping others in order to help yourself. Mindfulness – the act of concentrating on the breath and recognising thoughts and feelings to be passing – can also be useful. The Canadian Trauma Recovery group advises that:
“Mindfulness practices can be very helpful in relieving the symptoms of toxic stress and PTSD”.
Trauma and recovery
Trauma is part of the emotional terrain that many of us may have to navigate at some point in our lives.
It can impact how we view ourselves and others, how we regulate our emotions, how we view the world, and our mental wellbeing.
However, with the right interventions, and armed with the best knowledge, trauma needn’t hold us back. In time, trauma can even be seen positively, as a step on the path to change – and deeper meaning.
To learn more about how trauma affects mental wellbeing, join the University of Glasgow’s new microcredential ‘Impact of Trauma on Mental Health’, identifying how we can successfully intervene to tackle the effects of trauma from experts in the field.