This article provides an understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder. Its effects on individual and therapeutic ways to help the victim of trauma overcome their past. The author has taken information from different sources, and the references are provided at the end of the article. The article has been divided into three parts.
- One: understanding the prevalence of crime in India
- Two: understanding how going through a traumatic experience can affect you biologically and psychologically;
- Three: identifying ways to help victims of trauma.
Let’s begin by introducing a few terms used in the article to provide readers with better context.
PTSD – An individual develops post-traumatic stress disorder when they experience a scary, shocking, or dangerous event.
ACE – Adverse Childhood Experiences are “potentially traumatic experiences that occur in childhood (0 – 17 years) as defined by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). For example, individuals may experience violence, abuse, neglect, witness violence in the home or community, or have a family member attempt or die by suicide.
Prevalence of Crime in India
The National Crime Records Bureau collected data, revealing a total of about 6.6 million crimes registered in the year 2020, indicating a 28% increase of about 1.4 million cases compared to those registered in 2019. From this about 0.44% were cases of murder. 5.63% were crimes against women, 1.95% were crimes against children, 0.38% were crimes against senior citizens, 0.76% were crimes against Scheduled Castes, 0.12% were crimes against Scheduled Tribes, and 0.76% were cyber crimes. Below provided are pie charts of crimes against women and crimes against children in 2020.
The data provided excludes family members, witnesses, and unregistered individuals. This omission increases the count of people who underwent a traumatic experience. Yet most of them either don’t have access to mental health support or are unable to afford it.
Symptoms Experienced by Trauma Victims
Trauma is defined as the response to a distressing or disturbing event like an accident, sexual violence, natural disaster, losing a loved one, witnessing violence, accident, etc. In 1998, researchers conducted a study in a medical setting with about 9500 participants. They measured seven categories of adverse childhood experiences and their impact on individuals’ health.
The categories were: psychological, physical or sexual abuse; members of their household being substance abusers, living with a mental illness, attempting or dying by suicide, or being imprisoned; and violence against mothers. They found that people who were exposed to four or more of these categories had a 4 – 12 times increase in risk for developing alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, and suicide attempts. 2 – 4 times increase in smoking, or poor self-rated health; greater or equal to 50 sexual partners, and sexually transmitted diseases; and 1.4 – 1.6 times increase in physical inactivity and severe obesity. The higher the number of adverse childhood experiences, the greater the presence of adult diseases. These include ischemic heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, skeletal fractures, and liver disease.
When a person goes through a traumatic experience, they experience an amalgamation of shock, confusion, numbness, speechless terror and withdrawal; this is natural because our body will do everything in its power to keep us alive and protected. It’s a form of coping, a defence mechanism due to our nervous system feeling overwhelmed to process information; one that protects us from emotional pain.
Some may dissociate after the experience and some may cope by taking action, yet neither prevents the development of post-traumatic stress disorder. In the case of abuse happening within the family, victims are prone to experience greater degrees of dependence and paralysis in their decision-making ability. Victims of rape, including children and women abused by male family members, experience long-term symptoms that may include fear, sleep and eating disorders, fatigue, physical complaints, intense startle reactions and anxiety. Victims often dissociate when faced with threats, experiencing profound feelings of helplessness, and struggling to plan effective action.
This increases the risk of resorting to emotion-focused coping. It alters their emotional state and raises the likelihood of alcohol and/or substance abuse.
Other symptoms include:
Experiencing repeated reliving of the memories of trauma.
Many people experience intrusive memories, either spontaneously occurring or triggered due to a range of real and symbolic stimuli. This may include intense sensory visual memories of the event, followed by psychological and physiological distress. Trying to avoid any reminders of the trauma, including people or actions that may remind them. They experience detachment, withdraw from engaging with life, struggle to feel joy or pleasure and undergo emotional numbing or blunting.
The person may experience a state of increased arousal, including hypervigilance, memory problems, irritability, exaggerated startle response, and sleep disturbance. They involuntarily seek out similarities between the present and the traumatic experience, feeling repeatedly triggered by their perceptions of reality.
Watching TV, reading, and conversing become challenging tasks as they experience attention and concentration problems. Difficulty focusing makes it challenging to organize one’s life and complete activities one at a time.
Traumatized people require experiences that contradict the physical paralysis and emotional helplessness that come along with traumatic experiences. They need to rely on their natural environment and social support system, feeling safe and depending on others for their safety and care. If their environment is not able to provide this, they should be able to access institutional resources.
They may have to identify the problems they face and work towards finding effective and healthy ways of coping. Victims of assault need the ability to differentiate between real-life threats and the tormenting irrational fears associated with their trauma. Some mindfulness breathing practices, grounding techniques, body relaxation methods, role-playing, guided self-dialogue and thought-stopping can be helpful.
They need to process the event by re-experiencing the event without feeling helpless. This doesn’t mean pushing the individual to feel retraumatized. Create a safe and comfortable environment for the person to retell their story in a manner that empowers them. Recognizing that the trauma isn’t relieved by remembering the event is crucial. The event is part of their history.
Traditional exposure therapy can be helpful in overcoming traumatic intrusions yet new interventions like EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy) and ART (Accelerated Resolution Therapy) have been proven to be effective by research.
Bessel A. van der Kolk, a professor of Psychiatry at the Boston University School of Medicine, and known for his research on post-traumatic stress disorder, explains in his book, ‘The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and the Body in the Healing of trauma’, “ trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on mind, brain, and body. This imprint has ongoing consequences for how the human organism manages to survive in the present. Trauma results in a fundamental reorganization of the way the mind and brain manage perceptions. It changes not only how we think and what we think about, but also our very capacity to think.”
I hope this article provides insight into defining trauma, and understanding the prevalence of crime-causing traumatic experiences. Highlighting the importance of destigmatizing mental health. Proper care and support empower individuals, aiding their healing journey.
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