Have you, a loved one, a friend, your child or a colleague experienced a trauma lately? The chances are (especially if you are living in South Africa) that your answer is YES !
Due to the high levels of violence in South Africa most people will experience at least one violent crime in their life time living in South Africa and it is unfortunately common place that many South Africans will experience multiple trauma’s (not only violent crime) over their life span. Experiencing multiple trauma’s is just one of the risk factors leading to an increased chance of developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Common questions surrounding the topic of trauma include:
• What is a traumatic event?
• What are normal reactions to trauma?
• What are problematic reactions to trauma and PTSD
• How do children experience or show trauma reactions
• When to seek professional help?
What is a traumatic event?
A traumatic event is an event where you (or even a close family member/close friend) has been exposed to or witnessed an event or situation where an actual death, possibility of death, serious injury or sexual violence has occurred. Traumatic events can also be classified as having to repeatedly be exposed to the details of traumatic events for example those who are police, paramedics, fire fighters etc. who may daily deal with the after math or having to take down details for example of a traumatic event. Traumatic events can be man-made (experiencing an attack from someone) or natural (flooding, fires, earthquake etc.).
Some examples of traumatic experiences are:
• Natural disasters (cyclone, floods etc.)
• A physical attack
• Violence (physical attack, hi jack, break in)
• Car Accident or other major type accident
• Being exposed to shocking, upsetting, graphic content or situation
What are normal reactions to trauma?
These are immediate and brief responses to intense stressors that typically last from a few hours and up to 4 weeks. The core symptoms are anxiety and depression.
Anxiety is the result of experiencing a threatening situation and depression is the result of a loss. Quite often both symptoms will appear at the same time, as the threatening situation will often involve some kind of loss (e.g. a road accident in which a companion is killed).
Other symptoms will include:
• Feelings of being dazed
• Lack of concentration
Coping strategies are also part of the acute stress reaction and include avoidance of a specific place or things that may remind one of the trauma and denial (feelings of disbelief and trouble remembering parts of the event clearly ).
What are problematic reactions to trauma and PTSD?
In 1% to 2.6 % of people who have experienced a trauma a condition known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder develops (PTSD). PTSD is when a person’s reactions to a trauma become prolonged, exaggerated or intense, they become debilitating to everyday life, work (or school) and well as negatively affecting relationships and their social environment.
Signs and symptoms
The most common symptoms of PTSD include the following:
• Re-experiencing the trauma (nightmares, intrusive recollections, flashbacks, traumatic play)
• Avoidance of memories or situations that are a reminder of a traumatic event
• Sleep problems (insomnia, waking during the night regularly, needing to much sleep)
• Emotional numbing (as if you feel nothing, distant and disconnected for example)
• Symptoms of increased arousal and hyper vigilance (being “over aware”)
• Altered cognitive function
• Behavioural inhibition (withdrawn, shy, no longer engaging or talking)
• Regression (can often be seen in children, acting as if they were younger)
• Difficulties with physical contact (for abuse)
Children may re-experience traumatic events in various ways, such as the following:
• Flashbacks and memories
• Behavioural re-enactment
• Re-enactment through play
When to seek professional help ?
It is imperative that if you feel you, your child or a loved one is not coping that you seek professional help. Do make sure that the person helping you is qualified as reactions to trauma can be extreme.
Initial counselling after a trauma can help a person successfully process an experience so that they do not develop PTSD. If however time has passed and a traumatic event is still affecting you and affecting your day to day activities, work and studies counselling can help to overcome PTSD symptoms.
Seek help continued negative reactions to trauma can negatively impact your relationships, family life, ability to work properly and a child’s ability to perform at school and also maintain healthy social relationships.
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