Let’s set the scene.
After months and years of putting up with clutter, you’ve decided it is finally time to clear out the garage. You get some of your less-nice clothes on, grab a bin bag or ten and set to work going through the mess.
After working through most of the lower garage debris, organising it into various boxes, you move on to sorting the tools and sports equipment stored higher up. You’re feeling a little tired, not quite as motivated as you were earlier, but decide to power on regardless and climb up the ladder. You’re keen to get this finished.
However, in your tiredness, you forget just how heavy the sports equipment and tools actually are, buckling on the ladder as you try to bring them down. The overwhelming weight makes you lose your footing and you slip to the floor, smacking your head, and knocking yourself out in the process.
You wake up in a hospital with your family around you and have no recollection of how you got there. You feel strange, your head begins throbbing and you start to wonder how your life is going to change. For now, at least, you thank your lucky stars you’re still alive.
Types of trauma
According to research by the NHS, one-third of all adults in England report experiencing at least one traumatic event like this in their lifetime. Whether it be a car accident, a history of domestic abuse, a natural disaster, a serious illness or – as per the example above – a nasty garage-related head injury, life doesn’t always run smoothly for a large number of people.
However, it isn’t just the actual traumatic event itself you need to worry about. Often, the aftermath can be equally as harrowing and difficult to come to terms with, especially in terms of the mental health ramifications.
With this in mind, let’s take a detailed look at what actually happens when you experience a traumatic event, the mental health conditions it can cause, and how it can be combated against.
What happens during a traumatic event?
During a traumatic experience, your body responds in a number of different ways depending on the exact circumstances. Normally, your body’s defence systems will become stimulated, creating a response to the overarching level of stress you are feeling. This response, known more commonly as the ‘fight or flight response’, will make you behave differently in reaction to the traumatic situation you find yourself in.
Say, for instance, somebody threatens you with a knife. In this situation, your body will instantaneously, almost subconsciously, make a decision to either run from the threat (flight) or stay and tackle the situation (fight). Your body will also typically encounter symptoms like heightened blood pressure, an increased heart rate, a rush of adrenaline, and a loss of appetite.
Directly after the event, more emotional symptoms like shock and denial will kick in which, over time, will turn into feelings of sadness, anger, and guilt. It is the persistence of these feelings which then transpire into particular mental health conditions.
What mental health conditions can traumatic experiences cause?
While it’s perfectly possible to put on a brave face and have all the support in the world, dealing with the aftermath of a traumatic event is an incredibly personal thing to do. Failing to overcome these feelings can lead to a range of serious and potentially life-threatening mental conditions, such as those listed below:
- Anxiety. Traumatic events can leave you feeling anxious about leaving the house and facing the outside world. It can cause you to excessively worry and panic over decisions, significantly knocking your levels of self-confidence and self-esteem.
- Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is typically associated with the military, due to the traumatic events they experience while at war. Common symptoms involve re-experiencing the trauma through flashbacks, nightmares or places associated with the event. Sleep disturbances, anxiety, alcohol misuse, and depression are all commonly brought on as a result.
- Depression. Feeling depressed is so much more than simply being a little down or sad. Depression is a condition where you experience an intense feeling of anxiety, hopelessness, helplessness, and fail to see the positives in anything. These feelings remain over a long period of time and, after being left to fester, can result in physical self-harm and even suicide.
How can these conditions be overcome?
Overcoming a mental health condition is an entirely personal experience. Time ultimately will be the best healer, but it’s what somebody does with that time that will shape how quickly the issue is overcome.
Having a network of support is absolutely imperative though. Nobody should be left to feel alone with their emotions – everyone needs an outlet to talk through what they’re experiencing. While it can be difficult opening up and recounting the event, it is an incredibly important thing to do. Often, trust becomes degraded following ordeals such as these, so the best way to build that level of trust back up is by having a network of supportive friends and family around you.
Similarly, it’s important that you look after yourself. Your health and well-being can take a substantial hit in the aftermath of trauma, but exercising regularly and eating healthily can make a big impact on your mental health. With this in mind, you should avoid depressant substances like drugs and alcohol, as these can only exacerbate the issue.
Staying healthy and seeking support are the two most important things you can do. And always remember, you never have to suffer in silence – help is always available out there whenever you need it most.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the founder of Psychreg.