God will not look you over for medals, degrees or diplomas, but for scars.
Please remember that the following is here as a guide for you to be able to spot and be better prepared to help. Hopefully it will give you an insight into how someone who has been through a traumatic experience may be feeling. This information is not designed or meant to make you into an expert. If in doubt seek help. The purpose of what follows will try to define what it is, what causes it and the things to look for.
A Trauma is a stressful event or incident of a threatening nature, which is likely to have a pervasive impact on anyone experiencing it, such as, a sudden illness, an accident or an assault even death are all traumatic experiences which can upset and distress us. These can raise strong and disturbing feelings which usually settle in time without professional help. To the one suffering, it could appear that everything has gone drastically wrong.
We are going to try to describe the type of feelings people have after a trauma, what to expect as time goes by, and some ways of coping or coming to terms with what has happened.
After a traumatic experience.
Usually the first feeling is that of shock. They will feel stunned, dazed or numb. They will have feelings of not knowing what is happening around them. There will be feelings of denial, they can’t accept that it has happened, so may behave as if it hadn’t. This is what is usually misconceived as them being strong, or not caring about what has happened. Over several hours or perhaps days the feelings of shock gradually wear off and other thoughts and feelings will take their place.
People react differently and take different amounts of time to come to terms with what has happened to them. Even so, you may be surprised by the strength of their feelings.
They may feel frightened – that the same thing will happen again or that they may lose control of their feelings and break down.
Helpless – that something really bad happened and they could do nothing about it. They may feel helpless, vulnerable and overwhelmed.
Angry – about what has happened and whoever was responsible.
Guilty – they have survived when others have suffered or died. They may feel that they could have done something to prevent it.
Sad – particularly if people were injured or killed, especially if it was someone they knew.
Ashamed or embarrassed – that they have these strong feelings they can’t control, especially if they need others to support them.
Relieved – that the danger is over and that the danger has gone.
Hopeful – their life will return to normal. People can start to feel more positive about things quite soon after a trauma.
There will follow a period where other things will happen and may manifest themselves in different ways. In the weeks after a trauma they may notice the symptoms
Strong feelings affect your physical health. In the weeks after trauma, they may notice:
Any or all of these can be present so it is a case of knowing what to do.
It is very important that you listen out for their feelings and re-assure them that such emotions are normal.
Encourage them to give themselves time - it could be weeks or even months to accept what has happened and to learn to live with it. They may need to grieve for what (or who) they have lost.
Find out what has happened – it is better to face the reality of what has happened rather than wondering about what might have happened.
Be involved with others – in the case of death, going to funerals or memorial services, it may help them to come to terms with what has happened. It can help to spend time with others who have been through the same experience as them.
Ask for support – it can be a relief to talk about what happened. They may need to ask their friends and family for the time to do this – at first they will probably not know what to say or do.
Take some time – at times they may need to alone or just with those close to them.
Talk it over – bit by bit, get them to think about the trauma and talk about it with others. Don’t worry if they cry when you talk to them, it’s natural and usually helpful. Take things at a pace that they feel comfortable with.
Get into a routine – even if they don’t feel much like eating, they have to try to have regular meals and to eat a balanced diet.
Taking some exercise can help – but get them to start gently.
Do normal things with other people – Sometimes they 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. Advise them to be careful around the home and when they are driving.
These are some of the things to do, let’s look at some of the things not to do.
Some of the things they shouldn’t do:
Strong feelings are natural - they shouldn’t feel embarrassed about them. Bottling them up can make them feel worse and can damage their health. Let them talk about what has happened and how they feel, and don’t worry if they cry.
Don’t take on too much – being active can take their mind off what has happened, but they need time to think to go over what happened so that they can come to terms with it. And take some time to get back to their old routine.
Don’t drink or use drugs – alcohol or drugs can blot out painful memories for a while, but they will stop them from coming to terms with what has happened. They can also cause depression and other health problems.
Don’t make big life changes – get them to put off any big decisions. Their judgement may not be at its best and they may make choices they may later regret. Get them to take advice from people they trust.
These are the simple things a lay man can help with but there comes a time when they may have to seek professional help.
Family and friends will probably be able to see them through this difficult time. Sometimes though, they may need to see a professional if their feelings are too much for them, or last too long.
They should probably ask their GP for help if they have no one with whom to share their feelings. Particularly when:
They can’t handle their feelings or they feel overwhelmed by sadness, anxiety or nervousness.
Not returning to normal after six weeks.
They have nightmares or cannot sleep.
Getting on badly or staying away from other people more and more.
The begin drinking smoking too much or using drugs to cope with their feelings.
So once it is decided that professional help is needed, what help is available?
What help is available.
Their GP may suggest that they talk to someone who specialises in helping people cope with traumas.
They will usually be talking about treatment such as Counselling or Psychotherapy.
For example, a talking treatment called Cognitive-behavioural therapy has been shown to be helpful.
They may find that there is a support group for people who have been through a similar trauma to themselves.
It can be helpful to hear that others have had similar feelings and experiences.
Medication can sometimes be helpful following a trauma, but it is still important to see their doctor regularly to check how they are doing. The most prescribed are tranquilizers. These are drugs that can help to reduce the anxiety that can follow a trauma. They can also help them get to sleep. There are a number on the market. Common ones include Diazepam, Lorazepam and Temazepam.
In the short term, tranquilizers can help them to feel less anxious and to sleep. However, if they are used for longer than a couple of weeks they can become addictive. The body can get used to their effect and they stop working.
It could be that they have to take more to get the same effect. You can become ill with depression following a trauma. Depression is different from normal sadness – it is worse. It affects your health and goes on for longer.