Freya Lingard, Human Factors Consultant
Since the 2019-20 bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health and suicide prevention services have experienced an increase in demand. In the last 18 months, services such as Lifeline have reported a 20% increase in the number of calls received from people in need of support. This increased demand was also acknowledged in the recent Federal Budget, allocating $2.3 billion to mental health funding.
One of the many reasons someone may be experiencing changes or difficulties with their mental health may be trauma.
Trauma is relatively common in Australia, with the majority of people experiencing at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. There are many factors that determine how a person reacts to a traumatic event, such as the nature of the event, their personality, and their support system. There is no ‘right’ way to react to such events, and two people who experience the same event may react very differently.
Trauma and suicide
Trauma surrounds all aspects of suicide. It may be one of the reasons someone attempts to take their life. It may come from losing someone close to you to suicide. It may even be a result of witnessing a suicide if it occurs in a public place or attending to a suicide if you are a first responder.Research suggests 90% of public mental health clients have previous experiences of trauma (Jennings, 2004). This is why a trauma-informed approach is so important.
What is a trauma-informed approach?
A trauma-informed approach refers to an overall framework of how trauma should be viewed and how a service working with survivors of trauma should be run. It suggests that within a service a strength‑based framework should be implemented that enables members of staff to: understand and recognise trauma; treat each person as an individual; and create a psychologically, emotionally, and physically safe environment where survivors of trauma can feel empowered and in control (SAMHSA, 2014). These principles aim to reduce the chance of re-traumatisation, and for symptoms of trauma to be recognised early on should a new traumatic event occur.
Who can use this approach?
Anyone can become trauma-informed. Whether you are a professional working with someone who has experienced trauma, or you have a friend who has recently experienced a traumatic event, the principles of this approach can be applied. By understanding that the majority of people you come into contact with will have experienced trauma throughout their life, and by shifting the focus from “what is wrong with you?” to “what has happened to you?” our interactions can become more inclusive and less judgemental (Rosenberg, 2011).
How can I, or my organisation, start to become more trauma-informed?
We should all take it upon ourselves to be more trauma-informed. As an individual, some ideas on where to start may include:
- recognising the widespread impact of trauma
- learning some of the common symptoms or signs of trauma
- encouraging self-care for your friends/family
- be open and non-judgemental should someone come to you for support.
Or as an organisation:
- suggesting an organisational cultural change, such as implementing a trauma-informed framework
- encouraging self-care within your team
- ensuring your organisation is catering to the cultural, historical and gender needs of its staff and clients.
By adopting a trauma-informed approach, we are contributing to a trauma-informed society where survivors of trauma can feel safe, supported, and heard. We can all play our part in reducing the risk of re-traumatisation, which is vital for the healing process, by increasing our awareness and understanding of trauma and how to support those who have experienced it.
For more information, valuable resources can be found at the following links:
Supporting someone after a suicide loss – https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/suicide-prevention/after-a-suicide-loss/supporting-someone-after-a-suicide-loss
Supporting others through traumatic events – https://www.phoenixaustralia.org/recovery/helping-others/
Jennings, A. (2004). Models for Developing Trauma-Informed Behavioral Health Systems and Trauma-Specific Services. National Center for Trauma-Informed Care (NCTIC). Retrieved from http://www.theannainstitute.org/MDT.pdf
Rosenberg, L. (2011). Addressing trauma in mental health and substance use treatment. The Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research, 38(4)
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2014). SAMHSA’s Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Retrieved from https://store.samhsa.gov/system/files/sma14-4884.pdf