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Learning About Trauma

December 1, 2021

Learning About Trauma

Within the context of mental health, trauma is an emotional or psychological reaction to an event that threatens one’s safety, or results in significant injury or death. A trauma can be experienced first-hand or witnessed by an individual. Examples of a traumatic experience could include things like engaging in combat, being physically or sexually assaulted, being in a car accident, witnessing something traumatic happening to others, or suffering a personal loss.

After someone experiences a traumatic event, they may have a response to it. Kory Carey, Ph.D., HSPP, the executive director of equity and systemic integration at the Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction, has an extensive background in treating individuals who experience trauma. She shared her insights into trauma, including what it is and how we can be more empathetic. “Not everyone experiences trauma, but a great number of folks do,” Dr. Carey said. “They may or may not have a trauma response as a result.”

Trauma and how a person responds to it is unique to every individual. People who have experienced a similar trauma may react and carry their trauma in different ways. Some who experienced a trauma can be so deeply affected they may never be able to cope, or they may turn to coping behaviors that are detrimental to their health. What has happened to them has completely changed their life, and they will continue to do the best they can to survive. Many are able to learn helpful coping methods or work through their experiences with therapy. Also, there are others who experience trauma and never have a significant traumatic response.

It’s important to recognize if you have had a traumatic experience that you understand how it has affected you. If you are unable to maintain a daily routine, find purpose and meaning in work or personal relationships, or feel your mental, physical or spiritual health is suffering, you may want to seek professional help.

Potential Signs/Symptoms of a Trauma Response:

  • Change or loss of control over emotions
  • Inability to feel emotions – becoming “numb”
  • Experiencing flashbacks or memories of the traumatic event
  • Dissociation – an out-of-body experience where one is physically but not mentally present
  • Hyper vigilance – super-heightened awareness of surroundings/restlessness
  • Physical panic reactions – anxiety or panic attack, increased heartbeat, shortness of breath
  • Nightmares
  • Feeling disconnected or detached
  • Loss of interest in activities

Experiencing symptoms of trauma response is normal. If you or a loved one show these symptoms, pay attention to the intensity, frequency and immediacy of these reactions. Working with a professional in a therapy setting can help you identify and potentially work through trauma.

Being “triggered” into a trauma response is a very real thing. People who’ve experienced trauma can be activated toward an emotional response. They have been triggered by something that they associated with the traumatic event: a sound, smell, song, location, etc.

To be more empathetic and understanding neighbors, colleagues and friends, we can consider how our actions may unintentionally trigger someone else. Dr. Carey encourages people to be trauma-informed. “Be aware of boundaries. Be trustworthy and transparent. Promote physical and psychological safety. We can choose to be concerned about the emotional impact of our actions and words.”

Experiencing a trauma is not uncommon. It can also feel isolating. Dr. Carey reminds us, “Not everyone will experience a traumatic event in their lives, but those who do are not alone.”

If you or a loved one is struggling, help is available. Call 2-1-1 to speak confidentially with a trained counselor 24/7 for free. They can help connect you to resources or simply listen.

Call 211
To be able to focus on mental health, your basic needs (shelter, food, clothing, health care, etc.) must be met first. Indiana 211 is a free, safe and confidential way to connect to resources from around the state and in your community.
If you need support, call 2-1-1. The resources on Indiana 211 are updated weekly to provide the most accurate services.

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