By Dr. Samir Parikh
Throughout our lives, we all witness significant experiences, both positive and negative. While we enjoy and savour the positive ones, the negative experiences, too, have significant and long lasting effects on our lives. These negative experiences range from daily life struggles to more severe and intense negative experiences which can be rather difficult to deal with. Such severe psychological or physiological stressors are what constitute as traumatic experiences.
Trauma could include events such as experience of rape, abuse, still birth, natural disasters resulting in loss of life and property, to name a few. Such experiences could vary in quality from other negative experiences in their capacity to overwhelm one’s ability to cope with what has happened and therefore each individual would react to such experiences in their unique manner.
Traumatic experiences can be short-lived, that is, occurring at a single period of time, such as natural disasters, serious accidents or may occur repeatedly over a long period of time, such as continuous physical or sexual abuse or neglect.
While physical or sexual abuse can be understood at their face value, psychological trauma can be more evasive in its implications. Emotional abuse and neglect refer to maltreatment which results in adverse consequences for the individual. While emotional abuse is intentional in nature, neglect is non-intentional. Emotional abuse involves activities such as frequent punishment even for minor faults, frequent rejection or humiliation, etc. This kind of abuse could be in the form of parenting or even in a marital relationship.
Identifying Psychological Trauma: The long-lasting impact of trauma can manifest in both externalizing and internalizing symptoms. While physical trauma can be more easily identified by the tell-tale signs of violence, psychological trauma can be much more subtle in its impact for the observers. In such cases, one can be on the look-out for the following signs:
- Loss of interest in any activity.
- Frequent somatic complaints
- Extreme emotional reactions.
- Increase in irritability, anger or frustration.
- Regression to a younger age.
- Being easily startled.
- Refusal to go to or to be around specific places or people.
In addition to these symptoms, extreme and recurring negative experiences or abuse can result in Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), exhibiting symptoms, in addition to those mentioned above, like:
- Re-experiencing of the traumatic event through intrusive, recurring thoughts or nightmares.
- Avoiding situations or people who are associated with the traumatic experience.
Seeking Help: Such traumatic experiences can cause significant impairment in the person’s lives, affecting functioning at home, work and other areas as well. Persistence of these symptoms for more than a month would need professional intervention. Further, the victims or witnesses of psychological trauma tend to be at a higher risk of developing other mental health related problems. Therefore, it is vital to encourage them to seek help, whether from their family, friends or professionals, when they are unable to cope with it adequately. Additionally, psychological support for traumatic experiences is not restricted only at the time of the crisis, but even beyond it. Building resilience is of utmost importance, as the traumatic experience shall persist to be a significant event in the person’s life, which would be beneficial to the person’s overall functioning.
About: Dr. Samir Parikh is a senior consultant psychiatrist with Fortis Hospitals and is the Director of the Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences. He is a medical graduate (MBBS) of the Civil Hospital in Ahmedabad, an institution where he also did his post-graduation in psychiatry. A Ahmedabad University topper, he is one of the leading academic experts in the treatment of mental health.