When we hear the word ‘trauma’ we often think of disasters, wars, or sudden, life-changing events. However, trauma is the response to these events, not the events in themselves.
They can happen to anyone at any age and leave a long-lasting impact.
The Bible Society in their Navigating Trauma course, refer to trauma as a “wound of the heart” due to the way it impacts an individual’s complete physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.
David Trickey, a psychologist and representative of the UK Trauma Council, believes trauma can be understood as a rupture in “meaning-making”. When everything we put our faith and trust in is torn away, the anxiety and confusion we’re left with are all-consuming. It’s hard to make sense of the world around us.
Trauma is a complex issue. You’ll probably be aware that there are many different types of trauma: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), complex PTSD, birth trauma, collective trauma, vicarious trauma, and trauma caused by adverse childhood experiences.
Even everyday tragedies can trigger trauma, too. Being fired from a job, for example, can be highly traumatic when your identity and the foundations of who you are are stripped away overnight. In such cases, stress accumulates and the nervous system is forced on high alert.
Grief, while not a mental health issue in itself, can become one if it goes untreated. Yvonne Tulloch from bereavement charity At a Loss reports that “Because grief is not commonly understood and signposting is poor, bereaved people can often think they have a mental health problem and turn to mental health charities”.
There are also serious misconceptions about trauma. People often wrongly assume that those experiencing trauma are ‘dwelling’ on past events and just need to move on.
But trauma isn’t a choice or a sign of weakness, and it’s actually more prevalent than many of us realise.
The first UK-based study of its kind into trauma and young people, published in The Lancet Psychiatry, found 31% of young people had a traumatic experience during childhood, and those who were exposed to trauma were twice as likely as their peers to have a range of mental health disorders.
Connections have been made between trauma and homelessness, trauma and addiction, trauma and violence and many other destructive behaviours.
However, support for these issues doesn’t necessarily address the underlying issues and has limited success.
Like so much over the past two years, COVID-19 has exacerbated the problem.
For people already living with experiences of trauma, the isolation and uncertainty of the pandemic increased the risk of further psychological harm.
At the same time, fewer services and support have been available. As churches, Christian charities, and social action projects, the chances are we are working with people who have experienced all kinds of trauma.
While we are not called to step in and take over the role of the healthcare professionals, taking a trauma-informed approach to our work will help us to respond more appropriately.