Coping With Unexpected Events: Depression and Trauma

Responding to Traumatic Events

When we witness or experience a traumatic event, such as an act of violence or a natural disaster, we are affected mentally and emotionally. Whether we are personally involved in the incident, have family or friends who are injured or killed, are a rescue worker or health care provider, or even if we learn about the event through the news, we will experience some sort of emotional response. Each of us will react differently and there is no right or wrong way to feel. The emotional response each person has is a normal part of the healing process.

What you might feel

Though everyone is affected differently at different times, you may experience:

  • Numbness, inability to experience feelings, feelings of disconnectedness
  • Changing emotions such as shock, denial, guilt or self-blame
  • Extreme sadness, crying
  • Mood changes such as irritability, anxiousness, nervousness, pessimism or indifference
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Recurring memories or bad dreams about the event
  • Social withdrawal, isolation, strained personal relationships
  • Physical symptoms such as unexplained aches and pains, nausea, fatigue, loss of energy
  • Changes in eating habits or sleeping patterns
  • Increased consumption of alcohol

These feelings, a normal part of grieving and recovering from any trauma, are also symptoms of situational or reactive depression. If these feelings persist for more than two weeks or begin to interfere with your daily living, if you are abusing alcohol or illegal drugs, or if you have thoughts of death or suicide, they are symptoms of a more serious episode of depression. This is a heightened reaction to an abnormal situation, not a character flaw or sign of personal weakness.

Depression is a treatable medical illness. Most people respond to treatment and are able to bring their lives back into balance. The number of traumatic events you have previously experienced may also affect your response. Pay attention to your own symptoms, and be ready to seek a doctor’s help if your symptoms should persist or worsen. If you’re not sure if your symptoms are part of your grieving or something more serious, seek the opinion of a doctor or therapist, early. Don’t wait for your symptoms to become severe.

The healthiest things you can do for yourself and your loved ones are: be alert to changes in your feelings and moods, allow yourself time to heal and feel free to seek appropriate assistance. We know from a variety of studies that the chemistry in the brain changes in response to trauma. Seeking assistance from a health care professional after experiencing trauma is a reasonable response to a medical issue. The aftereffects of a traumatic experience are not something you can “pull yourself out of” or “toughen up” enough to “snap out of.” The best response to trauma-related depression often involves three things: medical intervention, therapeutic assistance and peer support.

If you have thoughts of self-harm or suicide, contact your health care provider, a family member or friend, or call 911 immediately.

To learn more about Depression and Trauma please: