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Guidelines

Dealing with trauma

19 June 2017

The BPS Trauma Section has produced the following advice for families, friends, and caregivers on how best to support adults affected by major traumatic incidents.

In the first few days after the traumatic event:

  • It is normal to experience some distress after exposure to a major trauma.  This may include difficulties in sleeping, distressing thoughts and memories popping into mind, nightmares, irritability, feelings of helplessness, reliving aspects of what has happened and thinking that you should have done more to help.
  • Social support from family, friends and people that are known and trusted is important during the first few days
  • It is important to deal with any practical issues such as housing, food, shelter in the first few days
  • Although talking about what happened can be helpful, no-one should be forced to talk about their experiences.  For some people, it is important that they have some quiet time to think things through.
  • Trying to get back to the routine things in life can be helpful, for example having times for getting up, going to bed and eating can give a sense of normality to life.
  • Spiritual beliefs can be strengthened and tested by disasters. For some people Faith groups can be a source of support
  • It is helpful to allow people to make their own decisions about as many things as possible
     

In the following weeks and months:

  • Many people find that their initial difficulties settle down and they are able to return to a more normal life within a few weeks
  • In a few people, the problems persist or get more intense
  • Sometimes there is a delay in the response to the trauma
  • People can begin to experience other difficulties such as avoiding people or places or developing panic attacks or anxiety when faced with reminders of what happened
  • It is important to check how people are coping after a month to see if more help is required
  • Trained trauma professionals might consider using some simple surveys to identify people who are having difficulties (e.g. Brewin Trauma Screeing Tool)
  • Support is available through GPs who can advise what is available locally and the best way to access help

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