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Trauma Symptoms, Causes and Effects

Trauma is defined by the American Psychological Association (APA) as the emotional response someone has to an extremely negative event. While trauma is a normal reaction to a horrible event, the effects can be so severe that they interfere with an individual’s ability to live a normal life. In a case such as this, help may be needed to treat the stress and dysfunction caused by the traumatic event and to restore the individual to a state of emotional well-being.

What Are the Main Sources of Trauma?

Trauma can be caused by an overwhelmingly negative event that causes a lasting impact on the victim’s mental and emotional stability. While many sources of trauma are physically violent in nature, others are psychological. Some common sources of trauma include:

  • Rape
  • Domestic violence
  • Natural disasters
  • Severe illness or injury
  • The death of a loved one
  • Witnessing an act of violence

Trauma is often but not always associated with being present at the site of a trauma-inducing event. It is also possible to sustain trauma after witnessing something from a distance. Young children are especially vulnerable to trauma and should be psychologically examined after a traumatic event has occurred to ensure their emotional well-being.

What Are the Signs of a Person Suffering from Trauma?

While the causes and symptoms of trauma are various, there are some basic signs of trauma that you can look out for. People who have endured traumatic events will often appear shaken and disoriented. They may not respond to conversation as they normally would and will often appear withdrawn or not present even when speaking.

Another telltale sign of a trauma victim is anxiety. Anxiety due to trauma can manifest in problems such as night terrors, edginess, irritability, poor concentration and mood swings. While these symptoms of trauma are common, they are not exhaustive. Individuals respond to trauma in different ways. Sometimes trauma is virtually unnoticeable even to the victim’s closest friends and family. These cases illustrate the importance of talking to someone after a traumatic event has occurred, even if they show no initial signs of disturbance. Trauma can manifest days, months or even years after the actual event.

Emotional Symptoms of Trauma

Emotion is one of the most common ways in which trauma manifests. Some common emotional symptoms of trauma include denial, anger, sadness and emotional outbursts. Victim of trauma may redirect the overwhelming emotions they experience toward other sources, such as friends or family members. This is one of the reasons why trauma is difficult for loved ones as well. It is hard to help someone who pushes you away, but understanding the emotional symptoms that come after a traumatic event can help ease the process.

Physical Symptoms of Trauma

Trauma often manifests physically as well as emotionally. Some common physical signs of trauma include paleness, lethargy, fatigue, poor concentration and a racing heartbeat. The victim may have anxiety or panic attacks and be unable to cope in certain circumstances. The physical symptoms of trauma can be as real and alarming as those of physical injury or illness, and care should be taken to manage stress levels after a traumatic event.

 

Short-Term and Long-Term Effects of Trauma

All effects of trauma can take place either over a short period of time or over the course of weeks or even years. Any effects of trauma should be addressed immediately to prevent permanence. The sooner the trauma is addressed, the better chance a victim has of recovering successfully and fully.

Short-term and long-term effects of trauma can be similar, but long-term effects are generally more severe. Short-term mood changes are fairly normal after trauma, but if the shifts in mood last for longer than a few weeks, a long-term effect can occur.

Trauma Medication: Drug Options

While trauma, unlike some other mental disorders, is induced by an event or experience, it can be treated through the use of certain medications. Not all trauma requires medication, but it can be a useful tool in treating the symptoms of trauma, such as anxiety and depression. It is important to work with a healthcare professional to determine whether medication is necessary.

Trauma Drugs: Possible Options

Drug options will depend on the individual’s psychological and medical history as well as the severity of the symptoms. If depression is severe and felt over an extended period of time, it may be treated with common antidepressant drugs. Clinical depression is defined as any depressive episode lasting longer than three months. Many trauma victims fall under the category of anxiety sufferers who are eligible for anti-anxiety medication.

Medication Side Effects

One of the considerations in whether or not to medicate for the symptoms of trauma is the presence of medication side effects. All medications have side effects, and the severity varies widely depending on drug class and individual body chemistry. Some side effects are more manageable than others, and potential negative side effects should always be compared to the potential benefit to the patient.

Drug Addiction, Dependence and Withdrawal

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for victims of trauma to turn to drugs as a means of self-medicating and coping with the effects of trauma. Government studies estimate that 25 percent of people experience trauma before the age of 16, and those individuals are much more likely to become addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Medication Overdose

Medication overdose occurs when someone ingests a significant enough amount of medication to cause physical harm. Overdose often occurs in conjunction with substance abuse, but it may be accidental and occur under regular circumstances. Any instance of overdose should be taken seriously, and professional help should be sought to ensure that an overdose does not reoccur and to determine if the cause is substance abuse.

Depression and Trauma

Depression and trauma have high comorbidity rates, and feelings of despair, malaise and sadness can last longer than a few days or even weeks. When a trauma occurs, post-traumatic stress disorder often occurs. The Department of Veteran Affairs estimates that depression is between three to five times more likely to occur in trauma victims who develop PTSD than in the general population.

Dual Diagnosis: Addiction and Trauma

When the symptoms of PTSD, depression and anxiety become too much to cope with through normal means, many victims of trauma turn to substance abuse. As mentioned, victims are much more likely to develop addictions than other members of the general population. It is essential for the loved ones of a trauma victim to look out for the symptoms of addiction after trauma, even if the addiction is the only outward sign of PTSD.

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