Trauma & mental health
Recovery from traumatic events
Although traumatic events are distressing, most people make a good recovery and few go on to have long-term problems.
Immediately following a traumatic event, you may experience strong reactions. You may experience feelings such as fear, sadness, guilt and anger. You may question your beliefs ─ about your safety, how much control you have over your life and how predictable the world really is. These reactions will gradually decrease over time and there are things you can do to help.
The support you receive from people close to you will make a big difference to your recovery. Help following a traumatic event does not have to come from a health professional ─ the answers are often found within ourselves and with the help of trusted friends and family. It is important that you use the resources and support systems most readily available to you following a traumatic event. For example, if you tend to use exercise to deal with stress, it might also help you to manage tension following a traumatic event. Spending time with people that have been supportive to you in the past is another way of coping with what is happening.
A list of simple ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ can significantly improve your chances of recovering and getting on with your life. Do’s and don’ts.
Talk to your doctor at any time if you feel very distressed or your reactions are interfering with your work and relationships.
Recovery from a traumatic experience is a gradual process and the time it takes to feel better and get back to day-to-day activities varies for each person. You may find you have good days where you feel like you are moving towards recovery and others when you will feel like you are going backwards. If you are still experiencing problems two weeks after a traumatic event, it is important that you talk to a health professional. Effective treatments are available. For more information click here (PDF).
ACPMH educates organisations and the community about the factors and processes which may protect people in the face of a traumatic event or stressful situation, as well as what may make them vulnerable to not coping. To find out more about our education and training services, click here.
Recovery from posttraumatic mental health problems
While most people recover from a traumatic experience in the days and weeks following the event, some go on to develop mental health problems such as depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Your doctor or a mental health professional can help you identify what the problem is and what to do about it. To access help, click here.
Emotional recovery is different from being cured from a physical illness. It does not mean that all the pain and questions that followed the traumatic event will disappear. Rather, it may mean that you will have less intense reactions to stress and reminders of the trauma, an improved ability to manage problems, and more confidence in your ability to cope.
Recovery is not something that happens all at once, nor is it straightforward. Mental health problems can be manageable for a while, then return at times of stress. Anniversary dates, news coverage of similar events, or going through a major change like a new job or divorce, can lead to problems coming back or getting worse for a time.
Recovering from mental health problems following a traumatic experience usually involves using more than one strategy. It can include trying to make sense of what happened, learning to manage strong feelings or finding ways to get back to day-to-day routines, enjoyable activities or work.
Here are some elements that can promote recovery:
- Set realistic goals ─ don't take on too much and find goals that keep you motivated
- Review and reward progress ─ notice even the small steps
- Talk about the ups and downs of recovery with friends, family and the health professionals involved in your care
- Have a plan to maintain positive changes, and contingencies to deal with times of stress or reminders of the trauma.