Contributor: Sara Chambers, Program Manager
As the world begins to reopen, after 15 months of lockdown, mental health has become a high priority. What individuals were once able to sweep under the rug, repress, and compartmentalize has become insurmountable. The pandemic not only added to existing trauma, but has even been a root cause.
While we have come a long way in identifying trauma, we are continuously learning how it impacts individuals and their support systems. What we do know is anyone can experience trauma at any point in their lives.
One of the biggest trauma myths is that only military members can be exposed to trauma. Research has shown that while a higher percentage of military members do qualify for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), 7-8% of civilians are also diagnosed with PTSD at any point in their lifetime. Women are also twice as likely to experience PTSD as men.
The origin of trauma is all too often misunderstood. Many believe that trauma and PTSD only impact individuals that have had near death experiences. The truth is, trauma includes any incident that involves actual or threatened death or injury. If a situation feels life threatening or a person feels an extreme loss of control followed by fear for their ability to survive normally, whether that feeling is accurate or not, trauma can occur. We all perceive stressful events differently. In addition to how often the trauma occurs, life experience, age, physical ability and living conditions may also contribute to making an incident traumatic. No matter who you are, the human brain reacts to threats in a physiological way over which we often have no control. When we perceive trauma, our brains engage to try to protect us without wasting a moment to decide if the threat is legitimately life threatening or not.
It is also the same in regards to how PTSD is diagnosed. Not everyone that experiences trauma has PTSD. A person may experience anxiety, grief, or even acute stress disorder, but seek recovery or have resiliency factors that they utilize before PTSD develops. Other factors that may impact a person’s reaction to trauma can include the severity of trauma, level of stress associated with the incident, genetics, how often the trauma was experienced, and how long it lasted, the individuals personal trauma history and if they experienced childhood trauma, and the individual’s support system at the time of the incident.
Finally, the myth that trauma reactions will last forever and are incurable is false. The human brain strives for equilibrium; our bodies are designed to heal over time. New treatments for trauma are being developed every day. Society is beginning to understand what trauma means, and we are learning how to support each other during distress. Behavioral health professionals are continuing to pioneer new treatments and getting people back on track and enjoying life again.
To best serve individuals who are struggling with PTSD, we as a society must challenge these myths, as they exist in ourselves and in others. A first step can be in starting a conversation about mental health and seeking knowledge on how we can help each other.
If you have experienced trauma and are having a difficult time shaking that trauma out of your mind and life, you are not alone. Supportive groups, informational books, and helping professionals that care are available. It is possible to heal.
Hamilton Center, Inc. is a regional behavioral health system in Central and West Central Indiana with corporate offices located in Terre Haute, IN. Services are provided to children, youth and adults, with specialized programs for expectant mothers, infants, and people who may be struggling with stress, life changes, or relationship issues as well as more serious problems such as depression, anxiety disorders, and serious mental illnesses.
For information on Hamilton Center Services call (800) 742-0787.