Content Warning: This article discusses the different types of trauma and gives examples in general detail. If you have suffered trauma or experience PTSD, reading this article may be uncomfortable or triggering. Please do not proceed unless you feel comfortable doing so.
Five Unexpected Sources of Trauma
Did you know that Canada has been named as the country with the highest prevalence of PTSD? According to a recent data review, approximately 1 in 10 Canadians will experience PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) in their lifetime. Women were reported as 2X more likely than men to suffer from PTSD.
I might be blowing your mind right now, because many people think that PTSD only happens to soldiers, or other critical service professionals (think police, fire, ambulance, etc). When most people think PTSD, they think war, home invasion, or assault. In reality, a wide variety of traumatic scenarios can cause PTSD, and nobody is immune!
What does PSTD look like?
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) describes some signs and symptoms commonly experienced by individuals with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder:
Distressing recollections of the traumatic event - such as nightmares, flashbacks, or becoming easily triggered by things that remind you of the event.
Avoiding people, places, or things related to the traumatic event, or even thinking about the traumatic event at all (“I don't want to remember” “Please don’t ask me about it”)
Hopelessness and negative patterns of thinking (“What’s the point?” “Nowhere is safe” “I’m never going to feel OK again”)
Withdrawing from relationships and activities you previously enjoyed
Feeling numb, detached, unable to feel any emotions (especially positive ones)
Difficulty sleeping, concentrating, remembering, and carrying out tasks.
Easy to startle, feeling always “on guard” or alert
May be more angry, or irritable than usual
What kinds of experiences lead to PTSD?
By definition, PTSD is caused by exposure to a traumatic event such as witnessing a death, threat of death, serious injury, sexual violation (such as violence, car accidents, being held hostage, rape etc.), hearing or learning about a traumatic event that has happened to a close friend or family member, or hearing the explicit details of such an event first-hand from the victim. Anybody can get PTSD, but not everyone will develop PTSD after a traumatic event, even two people who experienced the same thing.
You might not expect some of the experiences that can lead to PTSD!
For many people, birth can be a traumatic experience. Scenarios often arise where the life of the mother and her baby can be compromised, and often mothers are conscious and scared throughout the experience! Think emergency C-sections, difficult to control bleeding, baby does not immediately start breathing, etc. If you know of a mom who describes her birth as “difficult”, she may actually be trying to find words for how traumatic it was.
Similarly, people with serious medical conditions or one-off injuries and experiences can experience serious trauma during medical events. Think, how terrifying must it be to have a peanut allergy and not know if you can get to your Eip-Pen in time? If you’ve ever been in a hospital, you know that it is not always easy to get information, and often medical professionals are working too quickly during an emergency to reassure a patient - and that’s scary!
The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police report that each year in Canada, approximately 10,000 people will be seriously injured in a car accident. Don’t forget, people witnessing these accidents are also experiencing trauma! If you have ever been at the scene of an accident, you know how harrowing it can be to wonder if everyone is okay, or try to help when it is clear that they are not. Sometimes people forget that in addition to the actual injured victims, and first-responders who are party to many horrifying experiences every day, bystanders and other motorists can also experience significant trauma due to car accidents.
The word vicarious essentially means that when someone describes an event to you in vivid detail, you can imagine it almost as if you’d been there. Vicarious trauma means that if someone describes the details of a traumatic event in detail, or repeatedly, the person who is listening may also feel some effects of the trauma of the event.
As an example, 911 operators can often experience vicarious trauma as they are listening to someone describe an unfolding trauma, completely unfiltered and with a lot of emotion. Sometimes the family members and friends of critical service professionals and soldiers can suffer vicarious trauma. Even individuals such as lawyers and jury members in a court case discussing a violent offence!
Exposure to “mature” experiences
You might not realize that children can also suffer from PTSD, and actually have unique symptoms from adults (such as re-enacting the event they witnessed as a form of play). Children can experience PTSD from any of the same events as adults, but in particular you may be surprised to learn that being exposed to sexual imagery and experiences at a young age can be very traumatic. Things such as viewing adult movies and pornography and walking in on adults having sex can have a profound impact on children, especially if they don’t recieve appropriate debriefing and support after the incident.
Now you know
Trauma can happen to anyone, and there may be more people than you realize in your life with PTSD symptoms. Perhaps this information can help you to be kind and compassionate to the people in your life, as you now know that “just” witnessing or hearing about an experience can still lead to real trauma.
If you, or someone in your life, has experienced a trauma - you do not need to heal from this trauma alone. PTSD is a very serious condition that can have significant impacts on your life, work, relationships, health and safety. If you believe you have symptoms of PTSD, please contact your family doctor, a local mental-health hotline, or therapist. The symptoms of PTSD can be intense and debilitating, but they don’t need to last forever, and having support can help to lessen symptoms!
Contact Woodstock Therapy today if you’d like to learn more about the support we can offer, or additional community resources you may benefit from.