Coping with traumatic events – advice for all

A traumatic event is a shocking, scary, or dangerous experience that affects someone emotionally. These situations may be natural, like a storm or earthquake; or they can be caused by other people, like a car accident, crime or terror attack.

Individuals respond to traumatic events in many different ways, making the factors that help people cope, as well as the factors that increase their risk of problems, following the event varied and possibly unique to them.

Following recent tragic events in the city we have complied some information which we hope may be of use.

You can download the GM Mental Wellbeing advice document which includes local Manchester service information and contains additional advice and information regarding support for children and young people from CAMHs and the School Nursing Service.

By following the link below, you will find some updated resources to help you communicate key health and care messages. This is also available to members of the public who would like to know more information www.mhcc.nhs.uk/publications/resources

The Greater Manchester Victims’ Services website at www.gmvictims.org.uk provides useful local information and practical advice for victims and survivors of crime, and their families. You can use it to find help, regardless of when the crime happened, or whether or not you reported it to the police.

To contact the service call 0161 200 1950 or visit their website at www.gmvictims.org.uk to request a callback.

Manchester Community Central has a host of useful contacts and local information on its website www.macc.org.uk and through its e-bulletins which can be found on their website at www.manchestercommunitycentral.org

The Gaddum Centre offers advice, support and listening for children, young people and families including therapy and counselling for bereavement and loss; contact 0161 834 6069 or visit their website www.gaddumcentre.co.uk

Self Help offer a crisis telephone line The Sanctuary on 0300 003 7029  for anyone requiring immediate emotional support. This service is available day and night across 24 hours or you can visit their website at www.selfhelpservices.org.uk

Self Help will take any general enquiries through their administration office on 0161 226 3871 during the hours of 8.30am to 5.30pm. They will signpost clients to the appropriate service and can discuss making a referral for further support.

Anxiety UK offer their info-line services to anyone experiencing anxiety or heightened anxiety – the info-line number is 08444 775 774 and is open from 9.30am to 6pm Monday to Friday.   Alternatively, you can visit their website www.anxietyuk.org.uk where there is a range of help and advice regarding anxiety.

Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is a male suicide prevention charity who offer a free and anonymous helpline (0800 58 58 58) and web-chat (open 5pm to midnight) every day for men who want to talk about anything and everything. Visit their website at www.thecalmzone.net/help/get-help/

TLC: Talk, Listen, Change offer free professional counselling for adults, children, couples and families and have offices in Manchester and Stockport. If people are interested, they just have to call 0161 872 1100 to book an appointment or visit their website at talklistenchange.org.uk

Victim Support is a national charity providing immediate emotional and practical local support; they can also refer people onto specialist services if needed. Contact Victim Support’s national support line on 0808 168 9111 or visit their website at www.victimsupport.org.uk

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) website at www.nimh.nih.gov has useful information about warning signs  and links to more resources (note this is a USA website).

What is trauma?

Following a deeply disturbing or threatening event, or trauma, it is normal to feel distressed and overwhelmed. Traumatic events include actual or threatened death, serious injury to oneself or another person, or a threat to the personal beliefs of oneself or others.

Examples include violent assaults (e.g. sexual or physical assault, or mugging), torture and severe car accidents. Refugees who are fleeing their homes because of war and political problems may suffer from stress related to trauma.

Response to trauma may be embodied by an acute stress reaction, which is a short-lived condition that develops following a traumatic event. The symptoms begin within minutes of the traumatic event and can disappear within hours, days, or weeks.

Alternatively, they may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is a long-lasting anxiety response following a traumatic or catastrophic event.

PTSD usually develops within six months of the traumatic event. Once begun, PTSD is often a chronic disorder associated with significant disability and handicap, affecting relationships, work, and physical health. The speed of recovery is greater for individuals who have received professional treatment.

Children’s reactions

Children may also experience psychological reactions to a traumatic event. They react to scary events in many different ways, and there is no typical or normal reaction. Younger children, in particular, may find it very hard to understand what has happened to themselves, their parents, or siblings.

Like adults, they will have strong feelings. Unlike adults, they may not be able to articulate how they are feeling, and instead will express their feelings through their behaviour. When a family member experiences a trauma, everyone in the family is affected. It will take time for the family to adjust as they try to understand the reactions of other family members, and may have to learn to relate to each other in new ways.

Some common reactions from a child may be:

  • being scared, especially at night or when away from parents
  • being clingy and more dependent than usual
  • ‘babyish’ behaviour that they have grown out of
  • having nightmares and trouble sleeping
  • wetting the bed
  • having aches and pains
  • being more naughty than normal
  • being grizzly and whiny
  • having tantrums and doing things to get attention from adults
  • not doing as well as normal at school.

These problems are all normal reactions to an abnormal event that has touched the lives of the whole family. It is important not to get angry and blame the child for this behaviour.

Advice for family and friends

Some suggestions for offering support include:

  • spend time with the traumatised person and reassure them that they are safe
  • offer support and listen to them, even if they haven’t asked for help
  • don’t take it personally if they want to be alone sometimes
  • don’t take their anger or other problems personally – they are part of the normal response to trauma
  • tell them that you are sorry the event happened, and you want to understand and assist them.

If you were involved in the event, try to spend some time talking about what occurred with the other person/people. Try to express how you feel about what occurred, and about how you are feeling now.

How to help children affected by trauma

Like adults, most children’s reactions go away with time. Parents and other adults can help a child recover in many ways:

  • keep talking – about what is happening, how family members feel, and what they need from each other
    • this helps stop children from feeling alone, isolated, and misunderstood
  • reassure them that they are safe and will be cared for
  • listen and talk to them about the experience
    • honest, open discussion is best as the unknown is often more frightening than the reality for children
    • even very young children know that something is going on and, again, the reality is easier for them to deal with than the unknown
  • some children will need extra encouragement or special attention, especially at bedtime
  • allow kids to express how they feel
    • feelings are part of the healing process
    • support the child and allow them time to work through it.
  • do things as a family and make sure time is kept for fun and rewarding times together
    • shared fun carries a family through many hard times.
  • keep family roles clear
    • don’t allow a child to have too much responsibility for too long, even when they want to care for an upset parent or adult
  • it is just as important not to become too overprotective of a child after a trauma
    • try to understand if they can’t do things for a while, like going to school, or helping at home, but talk about how they will get back to normal activities as soon as possible.

Like adults, most children will adapt and grow through crisis with the love and support of their family and friends. However, if a child’s reactions are particularly severe or prolonged, or if there are other concerns about the way that a child is reacting to a traumatic event, do not hesitate to contact someone who is trained to assess the situation and advise.

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