What is trauma?
Trauma is defined as the physical and emotional response to a terrible event. Shortly after the event, someone experiencing trauma may feel numb, disorientated, helpless and overwhelmed; they may also be in shock and denial. Delayed reactions to a traumatic event may include flashbacks, difficulty starting and maintaining healthy relationships, depression, anger, guilt, unpredictable changes in mood. They may even have physical symptoms, such as nausea (feeling sick), headaches and sleep difficulties. People react in different ways to a traumatic event (or repeated trauma), and there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to feel, think or respond to trauma. If you’re experiencing any of these feelings, remember your responses are NORMAL reactions to ABNORMAL events.
Emotional and psychological symptoms of trauma can include:
- Shock, denial or disbelief
- Anger, irritability, mood swings
- Guilt, shame, self-blame
- Feeling sad or hopeless
- Confusion, difficulty concentrating
- Anxiety and fear
- Withdrawing from others
- Feeling disconnected or numb
Physical symptoms of trauma include:
- Insomnia (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or waking up too early), nightmares
- Being startled easily
- Racing heartbeat
- Aches and pains
- Difficulty concentrating
- Edginess and agitation
- Muscle tension
While these feelings are not abnormal, they can really make it difficult for you to move on with your life. Psychologist, psychiatrists and other healthcare professionals can help you in finding constructive ways of managing your emotions and help you work through trauma.
What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety disorder which you may develop after being involved in, or witnessing, traumatic events. PTSD was first recognised in war veterans, but it’s not only diagnosed in soldiers – in fact, a wide range of traumatic experiences can cause PTSD.
When you go through something traumatic, it’s understandable to experience some symptoms associated with PTSD, such as feeling numb or difficulty sleeping; this is sometimes described as an “acute stress reaction”. For many people, these symptoms disappear within a few weeks, but if your symptoms last longer, you might be given a diagnosis of PTSD.
Some common signs and symptoms of PTSD include:
- Reliving aspects of what happened
- Alertness or feeling on edge
- Avoiding feelings or memories
- Difficult beliefs or feelings
If you’re diagnosed with PTSD, you might be told you have mild, moderate or severe PTSD. These terms reflect what sort of impact your symptoms are having on you at the present moment – they are in no way a description of how upsetting or frightening your experiences might have been.
There are lots of misconceptions about PTSD; some people may wrongly assume it means you are “dwelling” on the past. They might even suggest that you should “get over it” or “move on”. But having PTSD isn’t a choice or a sign of weakness, and it’s important to remember that you are not alone.
What is abuse?
If you are being or have been abused, it can be very difficult to take the first step in seeking help – especially if you have tried to talk about it to friends, family or professionals and have not received a response that helped you.
Abuse is NOT normal and NEVER okay. There are many different types of abuse; being abused means a person is being deliberately hurt by someone else. It can vary from the seemingly trival act of not treating someone with dignity and respect, to extreme punishment, cruelty and even death. Abuse is a violation of someone’s human and civil rights, and it can have severe consequences – including death.
These are the most commonly recognised forms of abuse:
• Physical: Physical abuse is the use of physical force against someone, in a way that injures or endangers that person. Examples of physical abuse include:
- throwing things
- breaking/fracturing bones
- using weapons.
• Sexual: Any situation in which someone is forced to participate in unwanted, unsafe or degrading sexual activity, even when it is with a partner the person is in a relationship with, is sexual abuse. Examples of sexual abuse include:
- rape (forced penetration)
- sexual assault (vaginal, anal or oral)
- forcing sex with or in front of others
- forcefully stripping someone
- forcing someone into prostitution
- indecent exposure
- forcing or coercing someone to act out sexual fantasies they are not comfortable with
• Psychological: Psychological abuse includes verbal, emotional and mental abuse. It can involve both verbal and non-verbal communication. The impact of psychological abuse is often deeper and longer-lasting than physical abuse. Examples of psychological abuse include:
- threats of harm or abandonment
- deprivation of contact
- shaming/humiliating in private or public
- leaving nasty messages (texts, voicemail, Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
- cyber bullying
- not allowing someone to voice their opinion or have an opinion of their own
- criticism or constantly correcting everything someone says or does
• Neglect: Abuse through neglect is often subtle and, in some cases, victims may not recognise they are being abused. This kind of abuse will wear victims down, often over a long period of time. Examples of neglectful abuse include:
- ignoring medical, emotional or physical care needs
- failure to provide access to appropriate health or education services
- withholding medication, adequate food/drink, or heating
• Financial: In addition to hurting someone emotionally and physically, an abuser may also hurt them financially. Examples of financial abuse include:
- controlling an adult’s financial affairs or arrangements
- stealing or selling someone’s possessions without their consent
- preventing someone from working
- withholding money or bank cards
- fraud (such as forging someone’s signature or making them sign financial paperwork against their will)
- misuse or misappropriation of benefits
• Discriminatory: Discriminatory abuse includes forms of harassment, slurs or similar unacceptable behaviour based on what is defined as someone’s “protected characteristic(s)”. These include race, gender, gender identity/reassignment, age, disability, sexual orientation, religion (or no belief), marriage/civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity. Examples of discriminatory abuse include:
- making derogatory comments
- being denied medical treatment, for example, on grounds of age, mental health, or gender
- discrimination in the workplace, for example, on grounds of gender or religious beliefs
• Institutional: Institutional or organisational abuse includes neglect, poor care practice within an institution or specific care setting such as a hospital, mental health unit or care home. It may range from one-off incidents to ongoing ill-treatment, for instance, through neglect or poor professional practice as a result of the structure and policies (or lack thereof) within an organisation. Examples of institutional abuse include:
- deliberate waking
- lack of personal clothes and belongings
- lack of stimulation
- illogical confinement or restrictions
- inappropriate physical intervention
- removing a service user from the care setting, without discussion with other appropriate people or agencies, because staff are ‘unable to manage’ the person’s behaviour
Health and social care workers are responsible for providing health or social care. This includes GPs, psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, healthcare assistants, support workers, counsellors, therapists and occupational therapists. All health and social care workers must adhere to certain standards of care, including maintaining professional boundaries and treating people with dignity and respect. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen, and people receive poor quality mental health care which, in some cases, can amount to abuse.
If you think you have been abused by a health or social care worker, it’s important to seek support and find out what your options are. These include making a complaint, reporting abuse to the police, and taking legal action.
• Domestic: Domestic abuse includes psychological, physical, sexual, financial abuse, and so-called “honour”-based violence.
• Modern slavery: Traffickers and slave masters use whatever means they have at their disposal to coerce, deceive and force individuals into a life of abuse, servitude and inhumane treatment. This encompasses slavery, human trafficking, forced labour and domestic servitude.
How can I help myself?
*** First and foremost – in an emergency, always dial 999 ***
You should always call 999 if you or someone else is in immediate danger, if a crime is in progress, or if you need police or ambulance help immediately.
If you have experienced, or are experiencing, trauma and/or abuse, it can be very difficult to try to reach out for support, especially when you have tried to talk about it before and didn’t get a response that was helpful to you.
People react in different ways to trauma and abuse, and there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to feel or think. As we discussed earlier, your responses are NORMAL reactions to ABNORMAL events. These feelings can make life very difficult for you. Seeking support from a healthcare professional, such as a GP, psychiatrist or psychologist, can help you to develop constructive ways of managing your emotions and support you in working through trauma and abuse.
There is a wide range of support available. Usually, the first step to get treatment and support is talking to your GP; they will be able to refer you to more specialised services, for example, talking therapy. You can also self-refer to Dorset’s Steps 2 Wellbeing, who offer a number of treatment options.
There are several charities able to provide you with support, and many of them specialise in helping specific groups of people – for example, black, minority ethnicity and refugee women, or men who are victims of domestic violence. They can provide help over the phone, online, and even face-to-face. You can find links to some of these organisations below.
Aims to prevent murder and serious harm to black, Asian, minority ethnic and refugee women in England, Scotland and Wales as a result of domestic abuse, forced marriage and ‘honour’-based violence. Also supports children and young people.
Support for anyone affected by birth trauma, including partners.
Helpline: 0800 1111 (24-hour)
Confidential telephone counselling service for children about any issue.
In an emergency, always dial 999
For all other enquiries, dial 101
A voluntary organisation run for men, women and young people over 16 who have been raped or sexually abused, regardless of however long ago the abuse took place.
Hurting to Healing (formerly Dorset Action on Abuse)
A charity with a mission to relieve the suffering and distress of men and women over the age of 16 who are survivors of child abuse (sexual, physical, emotional and neglect) in Dorset.
A confidential helpline for men experiencing domestic violence from a partner, ex-partner or other family members. Webchat also available twice weekly.
A charity supporting adult survivors of any form of childhood abuse. Provides a support line and local support services.
For anyone who needs advice, help or information regarding a child’s welfare and for those who want to report concerns they have about a child or young person at risk of abuse.
Contact point for those receiving care from this Trust – to share experiences, seek advice and support, express concerns and submit complaints.
Refuges (24-hour helplines)
Dorset: 0800 032 5204
Bournemouth: 01202 547 755
Poole: 01202 710 777 (can take men, and people experiencing ‘honour’-based violence and forced marriage).
Provides a range of services to people with learning disabilities, including both victims and perpetrators of sexual abuse. It also provides support and training for families, carers and professionals. Mental health professionals can refer people with learning difficulties who have experienced or perpetrated sexual abuse for face-to-face work.
Helpline: 116 123
A 24-hour telephone helpline for people struggling to cope.
A free, confidential, NHS service for people aged 18+, providing psychological support across Dorset and Southampton for people registered at either a Dorset or Southampton GP surgery. As an IAPT service (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies), they accept self-referrals online and by telephone.
A charity that provides support and information to people affected by crime, including rape and sexual abuse, as a victim or a witness. The website provides details of Dorset support branch and online self-referral form.
A charity supporting vulnerable women, men and children who have experienced stalking, domestic abuse and sexual violence, covering specialist areas such as Learning Disabilities and Mental Health.