Trauma: The Silent Epidemic

By Roxanne Kerr, Founder, Trauma Healing Together

Before Covid-19, the word trauma in the UK was something that was mentioned only in the hushed corners of the psychiatrist’s office, in underground academic fields or in the few and far between mental health organisations who felt brave enough to dip their toe and say yes, this is something that can be tackled.

Covid-19 changed all of that and catapulted the term trauma out of the dark corners it has previously existed and slapped it right in the middle of a worldwide captive audience; exposing it in broad daylight for everyone to see. Trauma was no longer something that only happened to those ‘few unfortunate souls’ who had been ‘abused as children’ or ‘sent off to war’ but something that could happen to everyone.

Roxanne Kerr.

Roxanne Kerr.

However, unfortunately in my view, we are far from reaching the light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to openly discussing trauma and it is for the exact same reason that it was not openly spoken about previously. Human nature.

Talking and listening about trauma often means exposing ourselves to a world that is abhorrent in nature. A world in which we must challenge our own fundamental views about right and wrong, fairness and justice.  Exposing us to a world that is perhaps not comfortable or safe can often flood us with emotions and trigger an internal stress response.

Like any type of stress, how well we deal with it is dictated by the resources available to us at the time and our capacity to rationalise the experience. If we have the skills, emotional capacity, and awareness to listen and support a person telling us about their trauma, chances are they will feel validated and supported.

Two things which are necessary to healing and recovery. This requires a person however to accept the dichotomy that the world can be both a cruel place but can also be a place where we can survive and thrive despite of this.  What happens when we are unable to accept these thing or deal with another person’s suffering, however? What happens when we don’t know what to say as we have never learned adequate communication skills? What happens when we have to accept that someone we love or care is hurting perhaps because of something we allowed to happen or something that we couldn’t prevent but feel we should have?

To prevent our emotions overwhelming us or our stress response spiralling out of control, our natural instinct is often to deny, avoid or sweep it under the carpet where we don’t have to face these things. The same reaction occurs in many trauma survivors too as a way to manage what has happened to them and who can blame them. To accept any of this means challenge the very core of our reality and that can seem like an insurmountable mountain to climb. Instead of dealing with trauma head-on, it becomes a silent epidemic that spreads like an invisible virus, isolating us and slowly strangling us from the inside.

Covid-19, whilst still extremely traumatic, was different. The mental health consequences and trauma that arose from this virus was relatable to everyone and existed on a mass scale. It didn’t need to, nor could it, hide which is why I believe it made the term trauma so popular. However, many other types of traumatic experiences touch lives on an individual basis and we must also never forget to address this either.

The solution? As a society, we must not shirk away from the topic because it may seem too difficult or dark.  We need to stop talking about trauma as if it is something in the distance but instead challenge our very perceptions and fears around it. We need more investment into mental health services that challenge the stigma and are willing to bravely say that yes, this something that can be tackled.

Two out of three children in Scotland have experienced domestic violence, physical abuse or some form of other traumatic event before the age of eight and healing can only occur if we make the bold move to shine a light on trauma and expose it for what it is.