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What is trauma?

Posted on February 24, 2024

What is trauma?

Trauma (or complex trauma) is a mental condition that can affect any individual.

In general, trauma is thought of as being an emotional response to a particularly stressful period of an individual’s life, such as an accident, event or disaster.

These are known as traumatic events.

The signs and symptoms of trauma vary from individual to individual, meaning that diagnosis can be particularly challenging, especially when dealing with trauma from a variety of differing events.

In addition, these symptoms may also vary in strength and severity, as well as longevity.

This means that some individuals can be struggling with trauma for a long period of time before they think to seek care or choose to enter suitable care of their own accord.

With all cases of trauma, it is important that individuals seek help as soon as they can, whether this is immediately after the traumatic event, or later in life when the individual begins to recognise the signs and symptoms within themselves or those around them.

Learn everything you need to know about trauma and how it can be treated by calling our team today on 0800 088 66 86

How Might Trauma Affect Me?

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As mentioned in the opening paragraph, trauma will affect every individual differently in all aspects of their well-being: physical, mental and emotional.

Though there are some similarities shown in behaviours expressed or symptoms experienced by those who may be struggling with trauma, these are generalities and mainly include a few key moments in which an individual may develop trauma.

For example, immediately after the traumatic event, an individual may be in shock, affecting their ability to speak about or process the event.

In addition, they may be in denial of their situation, adding to the struggles in processing the event and realising that they may need help.

In the long-term, individuals who have struggled with trauma may have unpredictable emotions, and this may be spilling into other areas of their life such as social connections, as well as their physical health.

In some cases of trauma, an individual may experience physical symptoms such as nausea and headaches when recalling traumatic events or be triggered by similar stimuli.

In some cases, care workers who look after individuals struggling with trauma may be at risk of secondary traumatic stress, though this is shown to be more common when the care worker themself has dealt with previous stressful events in life. [1]

Not sure how trauma could impact you? Find out more by calling us today on 0800 088 66 86

Who is Affected by Trauma?

As mentioned throughout, trauma can affect all individuals from all different backgrounds, but especially if the individual has experienced a traumatic life event.

Below are some examples of traumatic events:

  • Natural disaster
  • Serious bodily injury
  • Physical assault
  • Vehicle accidents
  • Childhood trauma/childhood neglect (adverse childhood experiences)
  • Sexual assault/sexual trauma
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Emotional abuse

These are just some examples of traumatic events that individuals may experience, and there are countless more that may cause someone to experience trauma at some point in their life.

Anyone can be affected by trauma – don’t let it rule your life, call our team on 0800 088 66 86

What are the Mental and Physical Effects of Trauma?

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There are also countless different ways in which different individuals may experience trauma.

This depends on many different factors such as the specific traumatic event that the individual experienced, the length of time that they have struggled with trauma, as well as many individual differences and personal factors.

For example, mental health effects may include experiencing flashbacks, dissociation, developing low self-esteem, sleep problems, suicidal thoughts, and turning to substance abuse and misuse (e.g., alcohol abuse disorder).

It is vital that individuals experiencing any of these factors mentioned above seek help as soon as they can due to the long-term impact that some of these mental health problems can have.

Some physical health effects include panic attacks and hyperarousal – where the individual feels as though they cannot relax and is constantly “on edge”.

Although there are not as many direct physical impacts of trauma, it is important to remember that many mental health issues can cause long-lasting physical health issues.

For example, substance abuse and misuse can lead to a series of long-term and life-threatening health issues in some cases and the presence of issues surrounding sleep can lead to a host of knock-on effects within an individual’s life, including effects on their personal health and social life.

If you’ve started to notice the effects of trauma in yourself or a loved one, give our team a call on 0800 088 66 86

Why Do Traumatic Experiences Impact Some People More than Others?

There have been many studies exploring the differing impacts of complex trauma depending on a number of different factors.

In general, most research focuses on the type of event that the individual experienced, their ethnicity, their age, and the length of time since the traumatic event and any additional events that may have occurred during this time.

One study compared [2] these different groups and when compared for perceived stress, it was shown that black males seemed to be the most affected by trauma overall, but that young people were more likely to experience PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) as a result of their trauma.

If you’re wondering about why trauma has impacted you, give our team a call today on 0800 088 66 86

The Science of Trauma

Doctor with clipboard

In the modern world, there is more and more attention being drawn to complex trauma and its effect on individuals’ lifestyles and well-being.

This includes factors such as increased screening during healthcare procedures for domestic violence and/or emotional abuse among women, but is also beginning to include more screening procedures for young individuals who enter healthcare services generally and may be subject to emotional abuse, too. [3]

This means that more attention is being drawn to trauma occurring in the present moment, meaning that these individuals are more likely to enter suitable care and be removed from their traumatic environment.

This is starting to be seen in more and more establishments, with some bars, for example, providing drink-safety measures to prevent spiking and reduce the frequency of sexual assault.

In addition, individuals attending regular health appointments may be asked about their alcohol consumption initially, screening for alcohol abuse disorder or other substance use disorders.

Discover everything you need to know about the science of trauma by calling our expert team on 0800 088 66 86

Can Trauma Cause Mental Health Problems?

Mental health

Trauma, often described as an emotional mental health issue, is one of the most common conditions associated with mental health problems.

This is because of the nature of the problem – a traumatic event can cause a domino effect on the individual’s mental well-being.

This can include some of the effects mentioned previously in the article such as dissociation, low self-esteem, and struggles with addiction, but can also include many more.

Anxiety, for example, is one of the most common mental health problems in the world, but it is diagnosed in a high percentage of individuals who are also struggling with trauma, creating issues of co-occurring disorders (known as a dual diagnosis).

Depression and general low mood are also highly prevalent among individuals struggling with symptoms of trauma, and this links back to feelings of low self-esteem, as well as issues in other areas of the individual’s life such as their relationships and social life.

Is trauma impacting your mental health? Find out more by giving us a call today on 0800 088 66 86

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Trauma?

Man exhausted

If an individual goes without treatment or care for the symptoms of their trauma, then they are unlikely to recover from it and their symptoms are likely to become worse and worse over time, leading to serious problems for both the individual’s physical and mental health.

The adverse effects of trauma can have serious impacts later in an individual’s life, causing issues within their school or work life, as well as the effect on their social relationships and support networks.

For example, a substance use disorder e.g., alcohol abuse disorder, can lead to serious struggles if it is left untreated. This is why it is vital that those struggling with substance use disorders seek help as soon as possible.

In some cases, an individual may develop a serious mental health problem as a result of the trauma they have experienced, and some of these key issues are outlined in the following subheadings.

Please be aware that this list is not extensive and there are countless more mental health conditions and effects that can occur as a result of experiencing trauma.

1. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

As a response to trauma, many individuals who have been in traumatic situations develop a mental health issue known as PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).

This is a complex mental health issue, and it in itself can be experienced in a number of different ways with a range of both physical and mental health effects.

For example, individuals struggling with PTSD may experience flashbacks to the traumatic event that they experienced, bringing with it the feelings and associations that they may have had at the time.

This can be extremely stressful for individuals, and some flashbacks/hallucinations can lead to physical harm to the individual or to those around them.

PTSD is an effect of trauma that needs urgent care, as it can worsen quickly over time, leading to a snowball of effects, some of which can cause lifelong and irreversible damage to the individual and their general well-being.

2. Dissociative Disorders

When an individual dissociates, their cognitive functioning (thinking) is thought to split away from the individual’s awareness, leading to a ‘dissociative’ state in which an individual may not recognise where or who they are, as well as struggling with recognition of those around them.

This can also be incredibly stressful for the individual, as the feeling of not knowing where or who one is can be scary, as well as the possibility that it may take them a while to reconnect with reality, joining their cognitive functioning and awareness together again.

woman exhausted

3. Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is another serious mental health condition that can arise as a result of trauma or traumatic life experiences.

These distressing events may lead to a shift in the individual’s personality, affecting their concentration, energy levels, and general mood very quickly, and with little to no warning.

Not only is this distressing or disturbing for those around the individual, but being the one to experience BPD is also incredibly stressful.

Individuals who struggle with BPD experience extremes of highs and lows in mood and behaviour, making planning, consistency, and keeping up with commitments incredibly difficult in some cases.

4. Anxiety Disorders

As mentioned previously, anxiety is one of the most commonly experienced mental health conditions in the entirety of the world.

Mainly, this is due to the pressures and responsibilities that individuals are faced with in the modern world but can be worsened or developed due to a number of other related mental health conditions of which there are countless numbers.

When an individual experiences complex trauma, they may experience anxious feelings every time they are reminded of the event or are forced to partake in something similar (i.e., a trigger).

Anxiety can present itself in many ways, with some people experiencing physical symptoms such as butterflies in their stomach, physical shaking, increased sweating, and increased heart rate, whereas others may experience more emotional or mental effects such as tenseness, inability to relax, and extreme nervousness.

5. Depression

Depression is another common mental health issue that individuals struggle with all across the world, but also specifically in the context of complex trauma and co-occurring disorders.

In general, depression is thought of as feelings of low mood, sadness and hopelessness, but it can also affect the ways in which an individual may think about themselves, how they feel, and the negative thoughts that they may have in general.

Depression is a commonly co-occurring mental health condition with trauma as it is strongly linked to low self-esteem and the thoughts and feelings surrounding the traumatic event itself.

Thinking back to the event, for example, may cause the individual to fall into a depressive spiral, causing further issues and requiring further therapy and care in the future.

If you happen to be suffering from the short or long-term effects of trauma, get the help you need by calling us on 0800 088 66 86

Diagnosis & Treatment


Diagnosing trauma is one of the greatest struggles of the medical world due to the differing traumatic events that can lead to trauma, the experiences of the individual between then and the present, as well as any additional mental health issues they may be struggling with as a result of trauma.

If an individual is diagnosed with trauma, then they will be offered specialised and tailored care for their specific requirements and needs, including therapies and other treatments that are suitable and accessible in their individual case.

This could include talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), group talking therapy (i.e., groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, but for those struggling with trauma), and suitable holistic treatments i.e., art, music, yoga, meditation and equine therapy.

If you think that you might be suffering from trauma and could use the help of a formal diagnosis, give our team a call on 0800 088 66 86

How to Heal from Trauma

People holding hands

If you or someone you know is struggling with symptoms of trauma or has experienced a traumatic event, then it is vital that you speak to someone as soon as possible to get help sooner rather than later.

As a referral service, Rehab Recovery is happy to talk to any individual who may need support and offer free and confidential advice, helping you or someone you know to take the next steps in recovery, working toward a brighter future without the symptoms and struggles of dealing with long-term trauma.

To learn more, take a look at some of our other web pages, or feel free to contact us on our support line today on 0800 088 66 86





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