A traumatic experience can have long-lasting effects

Distressing experiences can cause emotional and psychological trauma. The experience might be a terrible one-off event or an ongoing series of stressful events. Either way, the effect can be deeply harmful.

What is trauma?

Emotional and psychological trauma can be caused by both one-off and ongoing events. A one-off event would be something like an accident, natural disaster, or an attack. On-going trauma can result from relentless stressful events, such as childhood sexual, emotional or physical abuse or living in a crime-ridden neighbourhood where you never feel safe.

Whether you are personally involved in or witness, a traumatic incident, have whānau or friends who are injured or killed, are a rescue worker, or even if you learn about the event through the news, you might experience some sort of emotional response. Responses can include:

  • numbness
  • changing emotions such as shock, denial, guilt or self-blame 
  • extreme sadness and crying 
  • mood changes such as irritability, anxiety, tension, negativity, gloom and disinterest
  • difficulty concentrating 
  • repeating memories or bad dreams about the event 
  • distress when something reminds you of the event
  • not socialising, staying away from people, strained personal relationships 
  • physical symptoms such as unexplained aches and pains, nausea, extreme tiredness or loss of energy 
  • changes in eating or sleeping 
  • increased use of alcohol or drugs.

Many of these feelings are a normal part of grieving and recovering from any trauma, but sometimes these feelings go on for a long time (more than a few weeks). They can begin to get in the way of your daily life, and may lead to depression or anxiety

PTSD: A different response to trauma

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can occur after you have been through a traumatic event, that is, something terrible and scary that you have seen or that happens to you. It can also occur if you learn that the traumatic event occurred to someone close to you.  Some examples of traumatic events include:

  • sexual, emotional or physical abuse as a child
  • sexual or physical assault
  • serious accidents, like a car wreck
  • natural disasters, like a fire, tornado, hurricane, flood, or earthquake
  • contact with war and conflict
  • terrorist attack.

During a traumatic event, you may think that that your life or others' lives are in danger. You may feel very afraid and that you have no control over what is happening around you. 

Most people have some stress-related reactions after a traumatic event, but not everyone gets PTSD. If your reactions don't go away and these feelings are disrupting your life, you may have PTSD.

Many symptoms of depression and anxiety overlap with the symptoms of PTSD. For example, in both PTSD and depression, you may have trouble sleeping or keeping your mind focused, lose pleasure or interest in things you used to enjoy, drink more alcohol or take more drugs, and avoid other people. It’s quite possible to experience PTSD along with depression or anxiety. 

Read more about PTSD here on the Mental Health Foundation website.

ACC funds support following sexual abuse or assault, in your time, on your terms. Learn more here:

abusive relationships can cause trauma

What next?

Once you understand what is contributing to the way you feel, you can learn what to do to start feeling better.

how to get better

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