What is 'trauma'?
In simple terms, a ‘trauma’ is an injury. When we talk about trauma in a mental health context, we’re talking about an emotional or psychological injury.
It happens when people experience events that are shocking or cause fear, and which are beyond their control.
Examples of things that can lead to trauma include things such as childhood abuse or neglect, sexual assault, domestic violence, being involved in a natural disaster, a serious accident, a sudden bereavement, being a victim of bullying, harassment or crime etc.
But in reality, the list is a lot longer than that.
The impact of trauma
The impact of trauma can last for many years or even decades. Common effects include such things as anxiety, depression, being easily startled, difficulties in sleeping, social isolation, low self-esteem and lack of confidence. When the impact of trauma goes on for longer than 6 months it is usually classed as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
When there have been multiple traumas that interlink, for example, in families where abuse has taken place over a number of years and in a number of ways (physical/emotional/sexual), it is usually classed as cPTSD (with the ‘c’ standing for ‘complex’ due to the multiple layers of trauma experienced).
Trauma has also been shown to play a major role in many serious mental and physical health difficulties. In severe cases it can contribute to things such as addiction to drugs or alcohol, eating disorders, chronic pain, auto-immune and inflammatory diseases, as well as increasing the chances of experiencing life-threatening conditions such as heart disease and cancer, and impacting social issues such as job retention, housing, relationship breakdown, and social isolation.
Why Breakthrough work with trauma
Trauma and abuse (including emotional, physical, or sexual abuse) has been experienced by 1 in every 5 adults in the UK.
Think about the number of people in your workplace, in the supermarket queue, on the bus – the numbers of survivors around us is HUGE. But there are next to no support services for those struggling, meaning those around us are often carrying the longterm impact of trauma in silence.
As a charity we aim to speak the unspoken and bring these issues to the forefront of society. Only 1/8 victims of childhood sexual abuse ever come to the attention of statutory authorities and, and it takes on average 26 years (recorded by SurvivorsUK) for male survivors of sexual abuse to come forward – this has devastating impacts on the long-term mental and physical health of survivors.
Any trauma or abuse writes itself on the mind and body of survivors, meaning that our reactions to it, including relationship issues, mood and anxiety problems, feelings of detachment from reality (also known as dissociation) and self-destructive behaviours, can be understood through simple neuropsychology. Bessel van der Kolk, leader in the area, explains that “trauma is much more than a story about the past…trauma is re-experienced in the present, not as a story, but as profoundly disturbing physical sensations and emotions that may not be associated with memories of past trauma”.
It is important to understand that, regardless of whatever happened to us, recovery is always possible and achievable.
Help with trauma
Help with trauma comes in the form of counselling and psychotherapy to help survivors deal with some of the distressing emotional impact, and work through the events that happened.For more complex types of trauma, long term specialist psychotherapy is needed to help survivors make a full recovery.
You can find out more about the services offered by Breakthrough for survivors and supporters by visiting our getting help page.
For more information on what trauma is an how to help, you can find recordings of some of our mental health training courses, such as ‘Trauma 101’ in our shop (there is a small cost for this recording, all of which goes directly back into our work with survivors).