It is estimated that up to 75% of Australians, or three out of four people, will experience an event in their lives that will cause significant psychological trauma, according to Trauma Centre Australia.
With the recent fires, floods and a global pandemic, experts believe the number of Australians dealing with trauma could be higher in 2021 than ever before.
Trauma is defined as “a psychological wound that has occurred due to a person’s perception of a stressful event”.
“Trauma can have an intense and dominating impact on psychological wellbeing and everyday life,” says Peter Hayton, Clinical Director at The Banyans Health and Wellness.
Peter says the events of the past 12 to 18 months have caused trauma to a significant portion of the population and he expects increasing numbers will need help, both here and overseas, as the impact of that trauma becomes apparent.
“Thoughts of the traumatic event can monopolise people’s minds, making everyday life and work overwhelmingly difficult,” he says.
Peter says the global pandemic has many characteristics of a traumatic event because it is unpredictable and uncontrollable.
Accurate data regarding the number of trauma-affected Australians is difficult to ascertain, as it is a highly personalised, complex, and varied feeling of how different scenarios and events have impacted them.
COVID-19, and its associated job losses, death of family members, lockdowns, financial stress and home schooling, has also re-ignited unprocessed traumatic events for many Australians, Peter says.
What is trauma?
Trauma is the psychological response to a deeply distressing, painful or disturbing event that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope.
Trauma can occur when you experience the following:
- Events that occur without warning that impact negatively;
- Events that you are not prepared to deal with;
- Negative events that occur multiple times;
- Events that leave you feeling powerless; and
- Events that leave you feeling remorseful without any resolution.
Events that make you feel a loss of control, betrayed, abused, or helpless can contribute to a trauma, while circumstances and events that have caused pain, confusion, loss, or include an abuse of power are also indicators that a traumatic event has occurred.
Trauma is categorised into three main areas – acute, chronic and complex.
- Acute trauma: This results from a single stressful or dangerous event, such as a life-threatening situation such as an accident, being a victim of a crime, and can include being involved in natural events such as flood or fire.
- Chronic trauma: This results from repeated and prolonged exposure to highly stressful events. Examples include cases of child abuse, bullying, or domestic violence.
- Complex trauma: This results from exposure to multiple traumatic events. These events are often severe and pervasive, and cause wide-ranging, life-long effects.
Often people who experience any type of trauma, may still be trying to make sense of the event weeks, months, and years later. If left unprocessed, events can have a long-term negative effect on psychological and physical health.
Unprocessed trauma and stress can cause long-lasting brain changes that influence the increased likelihood of addiction, depression, and other devastating mental illnesses.
Trauma can affect people emotionally, spiritually, psychologically, and physically. Symptoms such as constant tiredness even after a nap, headaches and general body pain, and difficulty falling asleep can all manifest physically after a trauma.
Have I had a traumatic event?
You may have suffered an event that you, or people around you, have described as “difficult, but you have to move on”.
But if you are still feeling overwhelmed, and that you have no-one to talk to because they won’t understand, or feel you’ve lost control of your life, you may still be suffering effects of the trauma.
Feeling numb or distancing yourself emotionally from others is a sign you may be minimising the trauma. Overreacting, sudden anger, and responding inappropriately is a ‘hyper-aroused response’, and can indicate a trauma hasn’t been effectively dealt with.
Interpersonal trauma, including sexual abuse, bullying and physical abuse, is one of the most common types of trauma and often brings associated feelings of shame. A feeling that you should have done things differently, or feeling you can’t do anything right, along with a tendency to blame yourself are all signs you have unprocessed trauma.
If you are having flashbacks and nightmares about the event, or are triggered by sights, sounds or smells, you may still be suffering trauma.
Why do some events affect some people and not others?
“Each person’s ability to navigate and deal with a traumatic and stressful event is dictated by a combination of genetics, environment, current support systems, personal history and situational context,” says The Banyans’ Peter Hayton.
The ability to deal with a traumatic or stressful event is also determined by a person’s ability to ask for help, communicate clearly about their feelings surrounding the event and past traumas and stress, and how they have been dealt with.
Previous traumas can give people tools and strengths to overcome stressful situations, while others, who’ve had similar situations but not dealt with them well, will be left with less ‘useable’ tools to assist them in the present and future.
Some specialists believe that how you experienced love and attachment as a child is a predictor of how you will deal with difficult situations later in life. Long-term studies show the first 20 years of life are critical, as different traumas at different ages impact brain experiences and therefore how the brain responds to similar situations in the future.
What impact does childhood trauma have in adulthood?
The impact that childhood trauma has into adulthood is complex and varied, dependent on the child, the trauma and surrounding support.
Unprocessed childhood traumas have a strong connection with high-risk behaviours such as smoking and having unprotected sex, and these people are more likely to experience chronic illnesses such as heart disease and cancer.
Childhood trauma forms a fractured foundation that can last a lifetime, as children create their own coping mechanisms that may not be sufficient to deal with stresses and trauma.
Should I just “harden up” and “get over it”?
Well-intentioned friends, family, and even strangers may tell someone whose acute trauma happened years ago to “harden up”, “get over it”, or “just deal with it”.
Resolving trauma is often not that simple, and attempting to do this by yourself can do more long-term psychological damage. When trauma is ignored, our brains still hold onto that memory and our bodies manifest it in physical ways such as exhaustion, headaches, sweating, and sleeping difficulty.
Is it time to get help?
Left untreated, any type of trauma can lead to depression and anxiety. If you are having nightmares about an event or events that has happened to you, are abusing alcohol, can’t find pleasure in hobbies or relationships, or can’t stop thinking about the trauma, you need to seek professional help.
The Banyans Health and Wellness understands that people seek help for trauma and grief at different times in their life stage and are motivated by different circumstances. Our individual sessions and deeply caring environment allow you to seek deep restoration and healing, and to move forward with joy.
The Banyans Health and Wellness provides a safe environment to process trauma and grief with thorough psychological and emotional support from psychiatrists, registered psychologists and Masters-degree qualified counsellors.
If you or someone you love would benefit from the support a program at The Banyans Health and Wellness Residence offers, please call +61 1300 BANYAN (1300 226 926) for a non-obligatory, confidential discussion or fill in our enquiry form below.