Given that May is Mental Health Awareness Month, today (May 20) is National Trauma Survivors Day, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is only growing more severe, it’s timely to discuss the challenges faced by those who have lived through emotional, physical, and psychological trauma (they are rarely disconnected).
In 2013, the National Council for Behavioral Health found that 70% of adults in the U.S. had experienced some type of trauma in their lifetime and 33% of youths exposed to community violence will experience PTSD. Given the wide reach of trauma and the debilitating effects it can have, this blog is meant to equip readers with information and resources that can be helpful for those enduring the effects of past traumas and for those seeking to understand and help others who have faced trauma.
What is Trauma?
Merriam-Webster defines trauma as “a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury.” Psychology Today writes that it is, “the experience of severe psychological distress following any terrible or life-threatening event.” The American Psychological Association summarizes, saying trauma is “an emotional response to a terrible event.”
While defining the word is fairly straightforward, the ways in which trauma shows itself, in reality, are rarely simple. Trauma shows up in people of all races, genders, cultures, orientations, affiliations, ethnicities, stages of life, social classes, geographic locations, personalities, ideologies, abilities, levels of education, etc.
Additionally (and sadly), the ways in which trauma can be inflicted are numerous. Elyssa Barbash, Ph.D. writes in Psychology Today that it can result from both extraordinary debilitating experiences as well as the accumulation of less pronounced experiences that exceed one’s ability to cope. In both situations, the individual is left feeling a sense of helplessness—often unsure how to cope.
What Does Trauma Look Like?
While avoidance, fear, anger, shame, vulnerability, helplessness, and guilt are common, there is no exact combination that exemplifies trauma. It can show up in vastly different ways depending on the event(s) experienced and the individual person. Here are a few examples of that variation:
- Obvious traumatic experiences are often realized and handled differently by oneself and others than hidden or less apparent ones.
- An individual’s type and intensity of response to trauma are due to each human’s unique combination of past experiences, beliefs, perceptions, expectations, level of distress tolerance, values, and morals (Psychology Today). Those unique combinations also determine whether an individual even has any reactions.
- A person copes with the emotions and feelings resulting from trauma in different ways as well. Some coping mechanisms can be detrimental and cause more pain, while some can be rejuvenating and healing. There is no “right” way, but there are ways that promote more wellness and recovery than others.
- Each individual person communicates about their traumatic experiences in a different way—and each person requires different versions, levels, and lengths of support and treatment (or lack thereof).
If you are enduring or seeing another person endure, reactions to or feelings about traumatic experiences, remember the following: Each experience is different, and each person is different. One response to trauma is no more or less valid than another. Someone’s reaction intensity level does not have anything to do with their level of psychological strength or weakness.
How to Approach Trauma?
While trauma is a word loaded with scary baggage, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers hope: “Traumatic experiences typically do not result in long-term impairment for most individuals. It is normal to experience such events across the lifespan; often, individuals, families, and communities respond to them with resilience.” However, recovery and healing often require individuals, their families, and their clinicians to work together toward positive outcomes.
(1) If you are enduring the effects of trauma, please consult your health care provider for the best guidance and support. These resources may also help support you as you work to recover and overcome:
- Call Lines to Know:
- IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY, DIAL 911 IMMEDIATELY.
- Disaster Distress Helpline, 1-800-985-5990: 24/7, 365-day-a-year crisis counseling and support to people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters.
- Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline, 1-800-662-4357: Free, confidential, 24/7/365 referral and information service for those facing mental and/or substance use disorders.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255: Trained crisis workers at the nearest crisis center are available 24/7 for crisis counseling and mental health referrals.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness Helpline, 1-800-950-6264: Ask questions about PTSD and get help finding support and resources.
- Talkspace: Though not exactly a call line, Talkspace provides support from a licensed therapist from the comfort of your own home. This is a subscription-based app.
- Tips for Survivors of a Disaster or Other Traumatic Event: Managing Stress: Quick guidance for how to relieve stress and seek professional help for your symptoms and feelings.
- How to Manage Trauma: Information sheet on where it stems from, how common it is, what symptoms to be aware of, and how to talk to your doctor about it.
- Breathe2Relax: App that helps reduce stress and anxiety with guided breathing exercises.
- Trauma Survivors Network: Organization that aims to help patients, providers, families, and communities better understand and handle physical trauma—and the emotional/mental effects it induces.
- Writing About Trauma Reduces Stress, Aids Immunity: Research showing how beneficial writing can be to help your healing.
- 5 Ways People Can Grow After Trauma: Article with hope for ways you may see growth as you work to overcome and recover from traumatic experiences.
- 5 Reasons to Talk About Trauma: Article explaining how person-to-person—in survivors’ groups, therapy, and other venues—has the potential to help some traumatized people work through their experiences and move forward.
(2) If you are treating trauma patients as a trauma doctor, mental health professional, or other clinician, consider these resources:
- Psychological Care in Trauma Patients: Study examining how and why patients suffering from severe physical injuries need their clinicians to also pay attention to behavioral and psychological aspects.
- Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services: Book that walks through types of trauma, examples of traumatic situations, susceptible occupation groups, advice for those working with traumatized patients, and much more.
- Helping Patients Cope With A Traumatic Event: Fact sheet about how patients often react, how to interact with them, what you can do to help them cope, and more resources and information that can help you provide the best care and direction to patients.
- Recognizing and Treating Child Traumatic Stress: Guide to trauma’s impact on children, treatment options, and tips for helping families and caregivers to support an impacted child.
- Provider Resilience: App that helps health care providers manage their own emotional and mental health as they deal with trauma at work.
(3) If you are supporting someone who is dealing with trauma, these resources may be useful:
- What is Trauma: Video explaining more about what it is, how it affects people, and what support people need when they are coping.
- How to Help Trauma Survivors: Tips for carrying out the essential role you play throughout the recovery process.
- 21 Common Reactions to Trauma: Article explaining many of the effects and thought processes that can surface after someone endures trauma—so you know what to look for and how to empathize.
- Help Kids Cope: App to support parents and caregivers in talking with their kids about traumatic situations and coping.
- Coping with Stress During Infectious Disease Outbreaks: Fact sheet with tips for handling stress during disease outbreaks. As the world works to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, watch for stress among your peers and loved ones—and know how to help them handle it.
(4) Lastly, if you are in hospital management or medical leadership, use these resources from SCP Health to ensure your staff know how to effectively treat trauma patients and how to deal with trauma in their own practice and life:
- How to Protect Yourself Emotionally When Disaster Strikes: Blog post on coping with the uncertainty that disaster could strike at any moment as well as the psychological and emotional trauma that will inevitably follow in its aftermath. You can also get a summary of this information in tip sheet format.
- Violence in the Emergency Department: Blog post on how to protect your providers, patients, and staff from ED violence.
- Behavioral Healthcare in the ED: Guide containing impactful strategies individual facilities and healthcare systems can implement to improve patient care quality and lessen pressure on EDs.
- Physician Suicide Awareness and Prevention: Blog post explaining the “how” behind protecting and healing your physician workforce who may suffer from both first-hand and second-hand trauma.
- How Healthcare Can Honor and Support Veterans: Blog post demonstrating how healthcare leaders can help veterans—a group very likely to have experienced extreme trauma—adjust back to civilian life, find the support they may need to cope with what they’ve endured, and find new meaning and purpose in a career in healthcare.
Trauma can take different shapes and sizes for different people. It is a challenge that affects the mind, body, and spirit of those who endure it, those who treat it, and those who support others through it. While it is serious and widespread, trauma is often something that people can work through with the right support system, coping mechanisms, and treatments—meaning we all can play a part in the collective healing of our communities.
At SCP Health, we work to bring hospitals and healers together to get people better and keep people well. This vision stretches beyond just patients, meaning that we do our best to support the mental, physical, and emotional health of our clinicians and our communities as well. If you’re interested in working for us as a clinician or medical leader, browse provider jobs and medical director jobs. If you’d like to explore a partnership with SCP, contact our Business Development team.