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The Impact of Traumatic Events on Mental Health

by Althea Ocomen

Traumatic events can be defined as experiences that put either a person or someone close to them at risk of serious harm or death. This experience can horrifyingly scar a person for life. These can include:

  • road accidents
  • violence/prolonged abuse
  • natural disasters
  • serious illnesses.

What happens when you experience a traumatic event?

When you experience a traumatic event, your body’s defenses take effect and create a stress response, which may make you feel a variety of physical symptoms, behave differently, and experience more intense emotions. This activity places you under huge distress which may cause life-long impacts in the future. This fight or flight response, where your body produces chemicals which prepare your body for an emergency can lead to symptoms such as:

  • raised blood pressure
  • increased heart rate
  • increased sweating
  • reduced stomach activity (loss of appetite).

This is normal, as it’s your body’s evolutionary way of responding to an emergency, making it easier for you to fight or run away. Directly after the event, people may also experience shock and denial. This can give way over several hours or days to a range of other feelings such as sadness, anger, shame, and guilt. Many people feel better and recover gradually. Every individual’s coping methods vary. However, if these feelings persist, they can lead to more serious mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.

What to do after experiencing a traumatic event

Turn to others for support

It can be difficult to talk to close family or friends after a traumatic event. You may not want to cause them any distress or may simply want some space to process it all. However, it is important to be around other people when you feel able to, as they can help with your recovery and wellbeing. You do not have to talk to them about the experience. 

Look after yourself

It is important to look after your mental health and wellbeing. This can include taking a break or some time away to deal with your experience. You should also try and keep a healthy diet and stay away from harmful substances such as drugs and alcohol, which can exacerbate the problem at hand.

Seek professional help

If you are experiencing symptoms that are truly affecting your day to day life, it is important to get professional help as soon as possible so you can begin to get effective treatment. You should consider seeking help if:

  • you don’t have anyone to talk to
  • you don’t feel like your feelings have returned to normal after 6 weeks
  • someone close to you has noticed changes and is urging you to seek help
  • your work or studies are affected
  • you find it difficult to carry out daily tasks
  • you are using drugs or alcohol to cope.



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