No one is immune to trauma and mental health struggles

Everyone is different, and the way trauma affects people is as varied as the folks in our communities. 

“A lot of time people think trauma is an event. However, trauma is how we experience an event. When an event is experienced as traumatic, the impact can be debilitating on our body and mind,” says Jon Jon Rivero, chief executive officer and founder of Qi Creative. 

“Trauma is trapped through our senses and our organs. It keeps us in a state of hyperarousal, even when there is no apparent threat, creating an overdeveloped ‘fear-response’. This can really disrupt a person’s ability to meaningfully participate in life. Trauma makes it hard for us to be at our best.”

Rivero, an occupational therapist and certified trauma practitioner/clinical, defines trauma-informed care: “It is being educated. Understanding what is trauma, how it impacts the body and the mind, and what approach is needed to support the healing process for that person.”

An important strategy is using repetitive motion or movement.

“Creating interventions are at the heart of our approach, such as dancing, playing a musical instrument, performing martial arts, hand drumming, beat boxing, or simply playing. These types of interventions provide patterned, repetitive movements that help regulate the nervous system and hyperarousal. We really work to get the person out of their heads and into their bodies, since trauma is stored in the body (the body remembers),” he says.

“Playing and connecting with others are the best ways to deal with trauma,” adds Rivero, adding that participating in some sort of art form tends to be helpful. Every culture has their way of dealing with trauma. For example, in the Philippines they folk dance, while First Nations may participate in a pow wow.

“The important thing is to be present, and to listen empathetically. It is not about giving advice, but rather creating a space for people to feel safe and cared for. Remind people to take care of themselves and be available, even if they don’t talk.”

Rivero says treating trauma is important because it is often the source of many other mental health challenges.

“No one is immune. What is traumatizing to one person is not to another.”

If you discover someone in emotional distress, and you are willing to intervene, you can provide mental health first aid. Rivero suggests giving a blanket, something to hug, a thermos of warm tea, or something warm to drink.

“When you’re in shock, your temperature tends to plummet.”

Jenan Nasserdeen, founder of Catalyst Training Services and a certified child and youth care counsellor, teaches mental health first aid courses.

“Mental health and poor mental health looks different for different people,” says Nasserdeen. “Sometimes those who have the deepest depression and most crippling anxiety can wear the bravest faces.”

Signs include a loss of interest in the things someone normally loves, or becoming withdrawn. They can include a shift in a person’s perception, their character, or the language they use.

“[It could be] a disturbance in a person’s ability to function and a shift in a person’s demeanor.”

People often don’t know what to say, or they are hesitant to get involved. Like Rivero, Nasserdeen suggests listening.

“We have an incessant need to fix the problem. Simply by showing up and asking ‘how are you doing?’ can save a person’s life.” 

She says a person who dies by suicide will attempt suicide an average of 11 times.

“Silence keeps us sick. One of the first things we lose is hope. Lack of hope causes us to retreat into silence.”

Nasserdeen compares asking someone in distress how they’re doing is like climbing into a hole and extending your hand to help.

If you see someone in emotional distress, Nasserdeen says, “Never leave them alone; give them reassurance, comfort them until emergency services arrive.”

Call 211 and press 3 to request the 24-hour Crisis Diversion Team.

She suggests helping by complying with simple requests. For example, letting that person use your phone to call someone. 

“Be an empathetic listener. Don’t feel the need to fill the space. Don’t try to judge or be critical of someone. Avoid giving glib advice. Don’t diminish experiences. Don’t inject biases, beliefs, or experiences into what they’re going through.”

She adds, “There’s no shame in saying ‘I don’t know how to help you. What can I do to help?’ ”

Featured Image: Trauma can be at the root of many problems. | Pixabay