29 Oct 2021

What is trauma?

We often hear the word trauma thrown around, but what does it actually mean? Trauma can be when someone is going through an event in their life which may be extremely distressing, stressful or frightening. Trauma can take place at any time in a person’s life. It can also cause long-lasting harm or pain to that person. Each individual will have a different reaction to trauma. For example, someone might notice the effects after a long period of time after the event or someone might see the effects immediately after.

There’s both emotional and psychological trauma. When someone talks about these it might mean the situations or events someone finds traumatic and/or how we’re affected by our experiences.

What can be traumatic to someone may not be to someone else. Everyone is different. Two people could experience the same event but be affected completely differently.

Trauma can include events which may make you feel: frightened, humiliated, powerless, invalidated, unsupported along with many others.

Trauma could happen in many ways, some examples include: witnessing harm to someone else, living/working in a traumatic atmosphere, being directly harmed, being affected by trauma in a family or community along with many other causes.

The pandemic has resulted in 50% of NHS intensive care workers suffering from Trauma

A study by Kings College London found that nearly half of intensive care staff had some mental health symptoms. These included severe depression and anxiety as well as 40% identifying post-traumatic stress symptoms.

In relation to the pandemic, many health care workers have been exposed to trauma on a day-to-day basis.  Having to make difficult life changing decisions, dealing with overcrowding and witnessing deaths everyday along with many other traumatic tasks.

Due to the daily routine of many NHS workers, the risk of more staff experiencing trauma is extremely high.

This Trauma has been so severe in some cases that it leads to PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)

When looking at the effect that the pandemic has had on NHS workers, it is likely that some extreme cases of trauma will develop into PTSD. Again, each individual is different and will have different experiences.

When reflecting on research conducted on past pandemics it is unsurprising that healthcare workers will be experiencing trauma and potentially PTSD symptoms. According to The Guardian, in the acute phase of Asia’s Sars outbreak, 23.4% of healthcare workers in hospitals were experiencing post-traumatic stress symptoms.

It’s becoming clear that this is the case for NHS staff during the current pandemic as well, and this should be addressed sooner rather than later. With COVID-19 still putting pressure on the NHS it is vital that staff talk to someone or seek help if they are experiencing any symptoms of trauma.

When does Trauma become PTSD?

PTSD and trauma are closely linked. When someone goes through a traumatic event, they may experience symptoms of trauma for a few weeks but if the symptoms carry on for longer than this, you might be diagnosed with PTSD.

There are different types of PTSD:

Delayed-onset PTSD. If your symptoms emerge more than six months after experiencing trauma, this might be described as 'delayed PTSD' or 'delayed-onset PTSD'.

Complex PTSD. If you experienced trauma at an early age or it lasted for a long time, you might be given a diagnosis of 'complex PTSD'.

Birth trauma. PTSD that develops after a traumatic experience of childbirth is also known as 'birth trauma'.

You can also develop ‘secondary trauma’ if you experience PTSD symptoms while supporting someone close to you who has experienced a traumatic event.

The undeniable link between Trauma (PTSD) and Addiction

When examining addictions there are both emotional and mental factors which drive a person to abuse substances. It has been identified that there is a correlation between addiction and trauma. Traumatic experiences often trigger how a person reacts to certain situations and how they may deal with their emotions.

Long-term psychological and emotional issues are often side-effects of trauma. These issues may cause a person to self-medicate and abuse substances as a coping mechanism. As the link between trauma and addiction is so strong, it is vital to address and treat the person’s trauma in order for them to heal and be successful in recovery.

Can Trauma cause addiction?

Many people believe that trauma does trigger addiction in some cases. Someone who has gone through a traumatic experience in their life may feel that they need to self-medicate to potentially stop being affected by the symptoms of trauma.

For example, someone who may have been in a war and has developed trauma and potentially PTSD may start to drink alcohol excessively in an attempt to numb or stop the traumatic symptoms.

Treating the Trauma to overcome an addiction

When looking at treating trauma to overcome addiction, Trauma focused therapy is often used.

Trauma focused therapy identifies and addresses the root cause of addiction. It is common that people with substance abuse issues also suffer with some mental health conditions, which may lead them to abuse drugs or alcohol to self-medicate the symptoms.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is often identified as one of these underlying mental health conditions. Trauma focused therapy looks at the relationship between mental health and addiction and seeks to break the abusive cycle.

There has been research which shows that children and adolescents who experience severe emotional effects due to trauma respond well to this type of therapy. People who undergo CBT for trauma like PTSD experience fewer symptoms after treatment.

It has been identified that when comparing a clients’ statements at the beginning and end of their treatment, there is a shift to a more positive perspective about their trauma. There have also been other improvements for clients such as:

• Feelings of safety

• Intimacy and relationships

• Tolerance of negative emotions

• Ability to trust

• Self-esteem

Treating the Trauma to mitigate the risk of addiction in our NHS staff

It is vital that NHS staff should go and speak to someone if they are experiencing trauma symptoms. If they speak to a doctor who can then assist them in getting the right help to treat the trauma.

If NHS staff don’t address their trauma symptoms, they will be more vulnerable to developing a mental health condition like PTSD. This, in turn, may increase their risk of developing an addiction.

For example, if a staff member is struggling to cope with trauma symptoms this may have an affect on their performance at work and behaviour in daily life. As well as this, suppressing the symptoms will only make them worse and risk potentially self-medicating in an attempt to ‘numb’ the symptoms. This could lead to other mental health conditions including PTSD, anxiety and depression.

Can we protect our NHS Heroes?

This is an important subject that many people working in the NHS may fail to address. No one should be ashamed of having these symptoms of trauma. Working in a busy, intense environment can have an effect on your mental health and it is vital that you deal with these thoughts and feelings.

If you are working for the NHS and/or suffering with trauma symptoms, addiction, or are simply worried you may be at risk of developing an addiction, do not hesitate to contact our team. We are here to answer any questions and queries you may have. Our specialist team is trained in addiction and mental health treatment and therapies. We are here to help you.