Almost everyone who experiences trauma will be emotionally affected, and there are many different ways in which people will respond. Most people may recover quickly with the help of family and friends. For some, the effects can be long-lasting.

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Are you or someone near you in immediate danger?

Call Emergency Services on 000; or go to a hospital emergency department

Types of Trauma

 The “types” of trauma below help us understand how different people may be affected by trauma. They are just some of the forms of trauma that people experience, and are not exhaustive.

Single incident trauma or “acute” trauma occurs when a person is exposed to one traumatic event, such as a car accident, an experience of loss, natural disaster, or physical or sexual assault.

Complex trauma occur during childhood or adulthood. It describes the experience of repeated traumatic events, such as abuse or neglect, or social trauma such as war or cultural dislocation.

Vicarious trauma occur when someone hears or is exposed to another person’s trauma. It commonly occurs in people who work in challenging environments, such as counsellors or paramedics

Intergenerational trauma is the experience of trauma that is passed down through the generations, from the survivors who directly experienced or witnessed the traumatic events.

Trauma in Australia

What can trigger trauma?

Almost everyone who experiences trauma will be emotionally affected, and there are many different ways in which people will respond. Most people may recover quickly with the help of family and friends. For some, the effects can be long-lasting.

Traumatic experiences and triggers for an individual may include:

  • A serious accident
  • Physical assault
  • Being involved in war – either as a civilian or as part of military operations
  • Being involved in a natural disaster, such as a bushfire, flood or cyclone
  • Sexual assault or abuse
  • Being in other similar serious situations

The Impacts of Trauma

Many of the common immediate responses can include things like:

  • Confusion
  • Sadness
  • Anxiety or fear
  • Agitation
  • Anger
  • Numbness and detachment
  • Denial
  • Embarrassment
  • Guilt or shame
  • Helplessness or feeling out of control
  • Nightmares and spontaneous flashbacks.

Common physical symptoms that people experiencing trauma often experience include:

  • Nausea or dizziness
  • Altered sleep patterns, sometimes severely and to the point of being unable to sleep
  • Changes in appetite
  • Headaches
  • Gastrointestinal problems, which can often be quite severe and lead to an inability to properly digest food
  • Being easily startled or always “on-edge”

Some examples of delays reactions include:

  • Mood swings, including irritability
  • Feeling more fragile or vulnerable
  • Grief
  • Fears of recurrence
  • Emotional detachment
  • Increased arousal and vigilance
  • Self-blame or guilt
  • Preoccupation with the events that took place
  • Difficulties making decisions
  • Problems with school, work and relationships
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - see further below
  • Recognised mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety
  • dissociation (or feeling numb, cut off or disconnected to your feelings)
  • substance use

Many of the longer-term impacts of trauma can come in the form of specific mental health conditions but also practical problems that an impacted person may find themselves involved in. Between the two of these, they include the following conditions or phenomena, among others:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): After the experience of a traumatic event, a person suffering PTSD will experience four main types of problems
  • Depression: Depression is a common reaction after trauma
  • Anxiety: Many people experience extreme worry, fear and anxiety both during and after a traumatic event
  • Other mental and physical health conditions: Including psychosis, schizophrenia, eating disorders, personality disorders, and others
  • Alcohol & Substance abuse: Alcohol and drugs may help block out painful emotions and memories in the short term, but they get in the way of recovery
  • Life & relationship impacts: Mental health problems resulting from a traumatic event can have a significant impact on family, social and work life.

Intergenerational Trauma

Survivors of war, refugees and other disadvantaged people

This type of trauma is passed down from the first generation of survivors who directly experienced or witnessed traumatic events to future generations. This is referred to as intergenerational trauma, and can be passed on through parenting practices, behavioural problems, violence, harmful substance use and mental health issues.

Psychologists are only beginning to properly understand how traumatic effects may be transmitted across generations. Studies have looked at various traumatic and cataclysmic events which have left an incredible scar on people across generations, including for instance: 

  • Colonial dispossession of indigenous populations (including in Australia)
  • Genocidal events such as the Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide in 1994 and the Bosnian Genocide
  • Exodus and refugee movement triggered by wars, including civil wars

Did you know

Direct effects on children include:
The ways parents communicate with their children about the trauma. The ways parents relate to their children The impacts of poverty, mental health and other challenges on children, including on their need to work, stay away from school, and otherwise.

Did you know

Those significant impacts on mental health faced by those children look like:
The growth of ideas such as “Don’t ask for help—it’s dangerous”. Fear of personal disclosure. Not trusting mental health care providers. Suspecting people’s motives as being out to hurt or take advantage of an individual.

Did you know

Intergenerational trauma is complex and more than about any one individual
Solutions and ways forward for it come down to society-wide responses. However, individuals impacted by it can and still do need the help that individuals experiencing trauma more broadly do. And with the right treatment and support, then can be helped and their situation changed for the better.
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Healing, Recovery & Resilience

Looking after yourself and getting support following a traumatic event is vital and what will work for you may not do another person. Below are some suggestions on how to cope with exposure to a traumatic event or to the different forms of trauma discussed above.

Here’s what you need to do!

Acknowledge that you have been through a traumatic event and that having any physical or emotional reaction is not only normal but healthy and part of the healing process.

Connecting with others that you feel safe and supported by is crucial, even if hard. This includes talking to family, friends, a counsellor, religious leader or a crisis line or other such people who can help you better understand your experiences and find ways to recover.

Expressing your feelings as they arise is important. Discussing them with someone else writing them down in a diary often helps the healing process significantly.

Reaching out for professional, formal support from a health professional you trust is crucial. This may be your GP, psychologist, psychiatrist, counsellor or social worker. It often takes time to find the right person for you: those you can open up to and truly explore your reactions and feelings with. But it is important to persist because once people find the right professional, the difference made can be drastically positive.

Looking after yourself by eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep critical. These activities give your body the chance to recuperate and recover. The physical component of healing is important, as the right physical circumstances help our brains create the right neural connections needed to teach us new habits and ways of being. Take time out to relax and do things you used to enjoy, even if you don’t feel like it.

Avoid the use of alcohol, drugs, prescription medication or other substances as a way of avoiding difficult thoughts and feelings. This can be a tempting short-term route, but can often only create more long-term pain. Instead, it is important to seek out professional help to create the roadmap to your own recovery and resilience.

Often-times, recovery from trauma does not look like a complete disappearance of the feelings and negative emotions that one experiences. Rather, it also includes resilience: the act of being able to withstand and deal with these emotions and feelings but without being overwhelmed by them.

Resilience comes with the right support and treatments in place, giving you the chance to come to terms with what has happened and develop the mechanisms to cope. It is critical, then, to seek out the professional avenues that help us chart the course to resilience.

  1. In-person services
  • Your GP is always the best place to start. They can refer you to a trained psychologist or psychiatrist, depending on your needs. You can find a GP in Australia in your area here.
  • You can specifically find a psychologist from the Australian Psychological Society website here.
  • The Black Dog Institute’s psychology clinic offers psychological services for a range of mental health issues and illnesses including trauma and PTSD.
  1. Online resources and courses

The following e-mental health programs or resources have been researched, developed and tested in Australia:

  • Phoenix Australia: An excellent resource that focuses on trauma and PTSD, both in terms of understanding it and overcoming it. Visit here.
  • THISWAYUP  – Experts at St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney developed the THISWAYUP e-mental health programs. They include an online PTSD treatment course for people who’ve been feeling symptoms for more than 4 weeks after a traumatic event.
  • myCompass – The Black Dog Institute developed the myCompass program as an interactive self-help service to promote resilience and wellbeing for all Australians.
  • OnTrack OnTrack offers free access to online programs, information, quizzes and advice to support the Australian community in achieving mental and physical health and wellbeing.
  • Head to health has more information on e-mental health programs and support services.
  1. Resources specific to young people

Online resources for young people include:

  • BITE BACK – Developed by Black Dog Institute, BITE BACK is an ever-changing space which aims to improve the wellbeing and mental fitness of 12–18 year olds, based on the principles of positive psychology.
  • eHeadspaceeHeadspace is a confidential, free, anonymous, secure space where 15–25 year olds can chat, email or speak with qualified youth mental health professionals.
  • ReachOut ReachOut is a mental health website for people under 25.
  • Youth beyondblueYouth beyondblue provides mental health education and links to phone support for 12–25 year olds.

Suicide & CALD communities: Addressing the issue

CALD and migrant communities have diverse views of suicide and suicidal thinking, and vary in the way that their community, family and friends respond to suicide.

Often, a strong stigma surrounds the individual experiencing suicidal behaviours that may also affect their family, carer, friends and community.

Spiritual and religious beliefs can sometimes contribute to this stigma, as well as social understanding and attitude toward mental health and suicide within a particular cultural community.

Are you or someone near you in immediate danger?

Call Emergency Services on 000; or go to a hospital emergency department

Other ways to help

If you are concerned that there is an imminent danger or risk:

  1. Ask the person in question if they are thinking about taking their own life
  2. Encourage them to talk about how they are feeling
  3. Bring their condition to the attention of a loved one
  4. Ask someone else (including the authorities) to intervene if you believe there is imminent danger.
  • The person’s doctor can provide a range of options for treating and managing mental health issues. 
  • The emergency department at their local hospital will also be able to help them. Alternatively, if they are in Australia, you or they can ring the following numbers for 24-hour help, support and advice:
    • Lifeline — 13 11 14
    • Kids Helpline — 1800 551 800
    • Suicide Call Back Service — 1300 659 467
    • MensLine Australia — 1300 78 99 78

While waiting for the person to receive treatment, remove any possible means of suicide from their immediate environment, such as medicines, knives or other sharp objects, and household chemicals, such as bleach.

Addressing the issue of suicide in CALD communities

We know that depression, anxiety and suicide can affect any of us at any time – regardless of our culture or background. We also know that a range of factors can make it harder for people in some communities to seek and access support.

Here are some crucial points to keep in mind when dealing with the issue of suicide in CALD communities and migrant individuals

  1. Beliefs affect communication. Consider how cultural or religious beliefs may impact on open communication about suicide. 
  2. Family is crucial. The role of family is crucial to the prevention of suicide within CALD communities. Family and social networks for many CALD people are key to both prevention and recovery of mental health conditions, even if stigmas may exist within the family unit. Despite this, the family unit remains critical in mitigating risk and preventing suicide.
  3. Trauma in refugees is an aggravating factor. Refugees (within CALD communities) carry the burden of painful pasts and histories, with the trauma they’ve suffered often becoming a risk factor for suicide. Thus, their traumatic experiences need to carefully figure in responding to individuals’ unique vulnerabilities.
  4. Religion and culture can be protective factors, too. While much has been said about the stigma surrounding suicide in some migrant / CALD communities, religious and cultural beliefs can help prevent suicide too. Any conversation needs to consider this and harness the positive potential of cultures and religions in deterring individuals from self-harm.