By its very unexpected and uncontrolled nature, traumatic events cannot be avoided. Domestic violence, rape, car accidents, tornadoes, violent crime, terrorism, hurricanes, victims of war or miltary combat and a range of others. Communities very publically and individuals completely alone around the globe are dealing with the potentially massive effects of trauma.
Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event and the impact can be too overwhelming to deal with right away. So the mind and body, with the wisdom of Nature, put into motion the shock response, or a “fight or flight” reaction, as a survival mechanism, to block the full impact of the traumatic event. That shocking or scary event triggers many split-second changes in the body to help defend against danger or to avoid it. It is a typical reaction meant to protect a person from harm.
Long-term reactions to trauma can include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, nightmares, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches. While these feelings are normal, and most people get over them naturally, some individuals have difficulty moving on with their lives.
Those who experience continued denial, the pushing away of the trauma, will suffer because denial doesn’t erase it. The trauma lingers, stored in our brain and body, like a powder keg ready to explode when a psychological trigger, or even a physical trigger like a scent, can set it off.
Those who continue to experience problems resulting from a traumatic event may be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they are not in danger.
A person suffering the after-effects of a traumatic event or dealing with PTSD requires compassion from family and friends, and guidance from a trusted mental health professional. Knowledge, understanding and proper treatment are critical elements in reducing the impact and intensity of the disruptive nature of trauma, which can cause fear, isolation and difficulty carrying on with the basic activities of daily life. Psychotherapists can help people suffering from trauma find constructive ways to manage their emotions.
Trauma and Risk of Suicide
Research indicates that there is a correlation between many types of trauma and suicidal behaviors, according to The National Center for PTSD. The results of a study published in the journal Child Abuse and Neglect showed evidence that traumatic events such as childhood physical or sexual abuse, loss of a family caregiver or exposure to family violence are associated with an increased risk of suicide.
One study found strong evidence that among veterans who experienced combat trauma, the highest relative suicide risk is in those who were wounded multiple times or hospitalized for a wound.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is an anxiety disorder that develops in relation to any events that create psychological trauma. The person directly experienced the trauma or witnessed it occurring. PTSD can result from learning of an actual or threatened death of a close family member or friend, or repeated first-hand exposure to the details of the event. A formal diagnosis of PTSD is made when the symptoms cause significant distress or impairment in social or occupational situations for a period of at least one month. With a PTSD diagnosis, the symptoms are not due to a medical condition, medication, drugs or alcohol.
The results of a national study published in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease found that out of six different anxiety disorders, PTSD was significantly associated with thoughts of suicide or attempts at suicide.
Military Veterans and PTSD
Awareness of PTSD has become more common with the unfortunate increase in numbers of military personnel who have witnessed extreme levels of horror close-up. Many military veterans diagnosed with PTSD have seen, at close range, one or many members of their unit blown up by improvised explosive devices. Many have returned home with life-changing injuries. And while eagerly trying to embrace home, family and community, some of these veterans with PTSD struggle desperately to make the transition from the horrors of combat to common activities like Saturday afternoon shopping at the mall with their family.
Treatment Options for Trauma and PTSD
There is no one treatment that is right for everyone when it comes to healing from trauma or PTSD. The most important factor is working with a professional therapist who has the experience, vision and compassion to create an individualized plan that may include a combination of strategies. These are some of the most common therapies:
*Exposure: The most common form of behavior therapy is exposure, where a person gradually faces a fear. In this way, the memories of a traumatic event can be brought to light gently without the consequences of the original trauma.
*Relaxation training: Learning relaxation techniques can help a person decrease the intensity of the trauma by managing stress and anxiety.
*Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This therapy helps a person learn skills to replace negative, incorrect or irrational thoughts with more accurate, positive and healthy thoughts.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): The person focuses on the traumatic experience while tracking a moving light or the therapist’s moving finger. It has been shown to be effective for decreasing the symptoms of trauma.
Mindfulness: Mindfulness is paying attention to the moment, accepting thoughts and emotions, and allowing them to exist without judgement. It is gaining increasing support among mental health professionals as a treatment, or part of a treatment plan, for trauma and PTSD. Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy has been found to be helpful for people dealing with PTSD and depression.
Medication: The right medication can help make the symptoms or trauma or PTSD less intense and more manageable. Medication can help lessen symptoms such as irritability or depression.
When collaborating with a mental health professional, the goal of trauma-focused therapy is to integrate the traumatic event into your life, so the effects of trauma are manageable and eventually minimized. That allows for continued healing on the path to a healthier and more peaceful life.
***If you or a loved one are thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(1-800-273-8255). This call can save a life.
Friedman, Matthew J., MD, “Trauma and Stress Related Disorders in DSM-5,” National Center for PTSD, Geisel School of Medicine, Dartmouth College
Hudenko, William, “The Relationship between PTSD and Suicide,” National Center for PTSD, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, March 28, 2017
American Psychological Association, “Trauma,” 2017
Dillmann, Susanne M., “Common Therapy Approaches to Help You Heal from Trauma,” GoodTherapy.org, March 9, 2011
Vujanovic, Niles, Pietrefesa, Potter, & Schmertz, “Potential of Mindfulness in Treating Trauma Reactions,” National Center for PTSD, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Feb. 23, 2016