We often think of trauma as a concept that is unfamiliar. Without being a war veteran or a survivor of a shark attack, how can we possibly be traumatized? The truth is, more commonly than not, we experience trauma without any realization. Medical News Today reports that 60–75% of people in North America experience a traumatic event at some point. Trauma does not have to be a gigantic, life-altering situation that makes our lives change forever. Trauma is defined as a psychological and emotional response to an event of an experience that is distressing or disturbing (CenterforAnxietyDisorders.com). This can include bullying, harassment, physical, psychological, or sexual abuse, sexual assault, traffic collisions, childbirth, life-threatening illnesses, sudden loss of a loved one, and other life events that can occur on a daily basis.
It is important to note that not everyone who experiences a stressful event will develop trauma, or that their post-traumatic symptoms may be temporary. Common side effects that people feel post-trauma include, but are not limited to, feelings of denial, anger, fear, sadness, shame, numbness, depression, anxiety, and guilt.
If these symptoms persist and increase in severity, people may develop a mental health diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Three different subtypes of trauma can be described as:
Acute: This results from a single stressful or dangerous event.
Chronic: This results from repeated and prolonged exposure to highly stressful events. Examples include cases of child abuse, bullying, or domestic violence.
Complex: This results from exposure to multiple traumatic events.
Secondary trauma, or vicarious trauma, is another form of trauma. With this form, a person develops trauma symptoms from close contact with someone who has experienced a traumatic event. They may have emotional outbursts, find it difficult to cope with how they feel, or withdraw from others. Flashbacks, where a person relives the traumatic event in their mind, are common, as are nightmares.
Along with an emotional reaction, trauma can cause physical symptoms, such as headaches, digestive symptoms, fatigue, racing heart, sweating, and feeling jumpy. Sometimes, a person will also experience hyperarousal or when someone feels as though they are in a constant state of alertness which may make it difficult to sleep. Individuals may also go on to develop other mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse problems.
In the immediate aftermath of a violent crime or traumatic experience, it can be difficult to know what to do, where to go, or even how to begin coping with something so overwhelming. If you need immediate assistance, the following are some resources that can help.
Hotlines for Survivors of Violence and Trauma
National Center for Victims of Crime: 800-FYI-CALL (800-394-2255)
National Child Abuse Hotline: 800-422-4453
Guide to Recognizing Elder Abuse (877-664-6140)
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-SAFE (800-799-7233) and 800-787-3224 (TDD)
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-4673
Disaster Distress Helpline: 800-985-5990
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255); 888-628-9454 (Spanish); 800-799-4889 (TTY)
National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline: 866-331-9474, 866-331-8453 (TTY)
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