5 Things You Shouldn't Say to Someone Affected by Trauma
Experiencing a traumatic event and recovering from it isn’t easy. But what also isn’t easy is the stigma many face — some on a daily basis. Despite there being a staggering rise in mental health awareness, stigma is still prevalent. Considering one in four people will experience some form of mental health problem in their lifetime, it astounds me how some people still stigmatize those affected. Stigma can make a person affected feel isolated, judged and worse about what they’re experiencing. Here are some of the most common things said (some of which I’ve experienced myself) that you should never say to someone affected by trauma:
1. “If you didn’t serve in the military, you don’t have it.”
Servicemen and women in the Armed Forces are at a high risk of developing PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) due to the dangerous nature of their work. But trauma is not exclusive to the Armed Forces. It does not discriminate on the grounds of race, religion or occupation, etc. Anyone can be affected by it. Such examples of a traumatic event are: domestic abuse, military combat, being a prisoner of war, experiencing rape or sexual assault, experiencing a terrorist attack, witnessing death, losing a loved one suddenly, being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, experiencing childhood abuse, etc.
2. “Well, they went through it too, and they’re fine.”
Many people after a traumatic incident will experience some of post-traumatic stress. These symptoms can begin to cease after a few weeks as the body and mind comes to terms with what happened. This is known as the “acute stress reaction.” But for one in three people (according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists) these symptoms will continue. This can last for months, even years. Why some people develop PTSD and others don’t, though there are many possible explanations, is still unknown.
3. “You’re just doing this for attention.”
We don’t have nightmares, avoid certain places or have flashbacks just for a laugh. Our “fight or flight” responses kick in in an attempt to keep us safe from harm. Only there isn’t any harm there. We might know that consciously, but our survival instincts are still catching up. Anything that reminds us of the traumatic incident can send it in to overdrive, because it equates the trigger with a possible threat.
4. “But that happened ages ago.”
You could argue that the Vietnam War was “ages” ago, but how many husbands, fathers and grandfathers etc. still can’t talk about/get distressed or upset by what they experienced, 40 years later? How long ago the trauma was doesn’t make it any less traumatizing. For those affected by trauma, it can still feel like it happened yesterday, even if was 70 years ago.
5. “Get over it.”
A person who experienced trauma can’t just “get over it.” Whatever the incident was, it can affect some people both mentally and physically for the rest of their lives. From personal experience, being traumatized feels like your mind has had a major electric shock. Imagine if your loved one had a physical injury. You wouldn’t say, “Just get up!” would you?
For anyone supporting someone affected by a traumatic experience, let them know you are there for them and support them.
Thinkstock photo via openeyed11.