How to recognize trauma and PTSD

At some point in our lives, most of us will bear witness to a traumatic event – whether that be on a personal basis (i.e. happening to us) or to someone else.

Trauma is, unfortunately, a part of life and most people make a full recovery with time and the emotional support of family and friends. However, occasionally the effects of trauma can linger and go on to affect our general wellbeing. In these cases, you may need to seek treatment and professional help.


What is trauma?

The most common traumatic events involve witnessing death (actual or threatened), sexual violence or serious injury. Common causes of trauma include:

Witnessing or being involved in a war: Service people commonly report trauma as a result of being involved in operations – as do civilians caught up in war.

Accidents: Being involved or witnessing a serious accident can bring on trauma.

Assault and violence: Depending on the seriousness and ferocity, physical assault can have long-lasting effects and cause trauma.

Natural disasters: Being caught up in natural events like fires, floods, avalanches, or cyclones.

Sexual assault, rape or abuse: Sexual abuse frequently triggers trauma – no matter the age of the victim.

Traumatic events are typified by extreme emotional distress, are often unexpected and can feel completely overwhelming to the victim. Moreover, in many cases, they cause the sufferer to question their beliefs and can literally turn their belief system upside down. For example, if a person is involved in a life-threatening assault at night, they might go on to question if the world is a safe place, become less trusting of others or face long-lasting fear of being alone in dark places.

This kind of trauma can manifest itself in other, more serious issues like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), substance abuse, anxiety or depression.

However, it is important to recognize the difference between trauma and other stressful life events. For example, the break-up of a relationship may be detrimental to a person’s health and lead to depressed thoughts – but these will not typically be on the same scale or severity as those caused by trauma.  

Seeking support

If you feel you’ve suffered trauma, it’s important to seek support. Thankfully, there is a far better understanding of PTSD and other trauma-related conditions these days and medical/psychological support is widely-available.

For general cases of trauma, approaching your GP and explaining your problems will normally be enough for you to be referred to a professional for a full assessment. In the case of military personnel, you may find it easier to seek help from specialist military organizations like Consultants for America’s Veterans that can provide substantial support to sufferers of trauma.

Understanding PTSD and knowing when to get help

Following the initial shock of a traumatic event, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can often develop and can manifest itself in several different ways. If you are suffering from any of the following, you should seek professional help.

  • Reliving the event that caused the trauma through flashbacks, nightmares or distressing memories.
  • Experiencing extreme negative thoughts or feelings – including a sense of generally feeling cut off from the world.
  • Attempting to avoid places, people, thoughts or feelings associated with the event.
  • A feeling of being on edge, anxious or wound-up.
  • Increased use of substances (e.g. alcohol or drugs) as an escape. Also, an increased sense of over-riding depression.

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