Traumatic events involving actual or serious risk of physical harm to ourselves or others are frightening and distressing, and can significantly impact on our psychological well-being. We all respond differently to trauma: two people could experience a traumatic event such as a road traffic accident, but could feel very differently about it afterwards. Trauma can impact on our day to day lives causing sleep problems, reduced appetite, low motivation, poor concentration, irritability and so on.
There are many things that people can do in the aftermath of a trauma to help the recovery process:
- Find out what happened
It is better to face the reality of what happened rather than wondering about what might have happened.
- Be involved with other survivors
If you go to funerals or memorial services, this may help you to come to terms with what has happened. It can help to spend time with others who have been through the same experience as you.
- Ask for support It can be a relief to talk about what happened. You may need to ask your friends and family for the time to do this - at first they will probably not know what to say or do.
- Take some time for yourself At times you may want to be alone or just with those close to you.
- Talk it over Bit by bit, let yourself think about the trauma and talk about it with others. Don't worry if you cry when you talk, it's natural and usually helpful. Take things at a pace that you feel comfortable with.
- Get into a routine Even if you don't feel much like eating, try to have regular meals and to eat a balanced diet. Taking some exercise can help - but start gently.
- Do some 'normal' things with other people Sometimes you will want to be with other people, but not to talk about what has happened. This can also be part of the healing process.
- Take care After a trauma, people are more likely to have accidents. Be careful around the home and when you are driving.
What should I NOT do?
- Don't bottle up your feelings Strong feelings are natural. Don't feel embarrassed about them. Bottling them up can make you feel worse and can damage your health. Let yourself talk about what has happened and how you feel, and don't worry if you cry.
- Don't take on too much Being active can take your mind off what has happened, but you need time to think to go over what happened so you can come to terms with it. Take some time to get back to your old routine.
- Don't drink or use drugs Alcohol or drugs can blot out painful memories for a while, but they will stop you from coming to terms with what has happened. They can also cause depression and other health problems.
- Don't make any major life changes Try to put off any big decisions. Your judgement may not be at its best and you may make choices you later regret. Take advice from people you trust.
When should I get professional help?
Family and friends will probably be able to see you through this difficult time. Many people find that the feelings that they experience after a traumatic event gradually reduce after about a month. However, you may need to see a professional if your feelings are too much for you, or go on for too long.
You should probably ask your GP for help if:
- you have no one to share your feelings with;
- you can't handle your feelings and feel overwhelmed by sadness, anxiety, or nervousness;
- you feel that you are not returning to normal after six weeks;
- you have nightmares and cannot sleep;
- you are getting on badly with those close to you;
- you stay away from other people more and more;
- your work is suffering;
- those around you suggest you seek help;
- you have accidents;
- you are drinking or smoking too much, or using drugs to cope with your feelings.
This article was produced in line with guidance from the Royal College of Psychiatrists' Public Education Editorial Board and the Faculty of Liaison Psychiatry.
Clinical Psychology Associates - Experts in post-traumatic stress
Established in 2004, CPA is one of the UK’s leading psychological consultancies. Based in Manchester, CPA has a network of Clinical Psychologists across the country, and serves a diverse client base. CPA has a strong reputation in the assessment and treatment of post-traumatic stress reactions. This is an issue of increasing importance given that around 30% of people involved in traumatic incidents continue to need help to alleviate their symptoms after twelve months, creating very significant potential for litigation. CPA has a proven track record of protecting the interests of clients in the aftermath of critical incidents by providing: expert assessment (including medico-legal reports and assessment of malingering); immediate access to treatment based on NICE guidance and focused on enabling people to return to work; and expert training to help managers anticipate, identify and respond in the optimal way to any trauma symptoms displayed by staff.
This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.