NEED FOR SAFE ENVIRONMENT: Research strongly suggests that a high percentage of adult survivors of childhood trauma develop mental health problems.
People exposed to traumatic experiences are at a higher risk of developing psychological and physiological health issues.
WIDE RANGE: Traumatic experiences can include single incident events, such as a car accident, or multiple adverse experiences such as abuse or neglect.
A traumatic experience can be described as an event that overwhelms a person’s capacity to cope, and can impact people of any age, sex, race or socio-economic background.
Traumatic experiences may include single-event experiences such as accidents or natural disasters, or more chronic exposure to traumatic events such as in domestic violence and childhood trauma.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) have been defined as emotional, physical or sexual abuse, physical or emotional neglect, exposure to domestic violence or substance abuse, parental separation or having a family member incarcerated, or having a family member with a mental illness.
While the majority of us have been exposed to at least one ACE, research into its impact indicates that as a person’s number of ACEs increases, as does their risk for negative outcomes in medical, social and psychological health.
In terms of a person’s psychological health, some common manifestations of trauma may include difficulty with executive functions such as attention, memory and decision-making, low self-esteem, difficulty regulating emotions, difficulty in interpersonal relationships, irritability, dissociation, depression, anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), eating disorders, suicidality, or engaging in high risk behaviours.
Affected people often note that issues feed into each other, compounding problems.
As well as being very distressing, the person’s symptoms can interfere with their ability to carry on with their everyday work, life and relationships.
People who are affected by traumatic experiences may have developed ways to manage their distress that may seem to help in the short term, such as avoidance, substance abuse, self harming and dissociation; however, these strategies can lead to greater problems in the long term.
Treatment aims to support the individual to develop healthier and more adaptive ways of managing and reducing distress so they are able to get on with their lives without experiencing the debilitating effects of trauma.
There are a range of medications and trauma-informed approaches available to support people in their recovery.
There are also several strategies that people can employ in their daily lives to support their general health and wellbeing including good diet and exercise, good sleep hygiene, engaging in social activities, having things to look forward to, yoga, and engaging in regular relaxation and mindfulness.
Several apps for smart phones have been developed to support people in this regard, including “What’s Up” which has a range of strategies to support emotion regulation and the “HeadSpace” and “Smiling Mind” apps which provide guided mindfulness and meditation strategies.
Support is available for survivors, their families and communities through professional phone, information and resources, advocacy and education.
For further information on how to access appropriate treatment, it is recommended that people talk to their General Practitioner (GP) for a referral to a trauma-informed psychiatrist or counsellor, or contact the Mental Health Information and Support Service on 1800 011 511, the Blue Knot Foundation 1300 657 380, or the Victims of Crime Counselling Service on 1800 633 063.