What is a psychological trauma? How can we spot it?


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Created at09 August 2021
Update16 March 2023

This summer has been marked with a large number of wildfires, floods, mudflows around the world. Whether a disaster of natural origins, such as euarthquakes, wildfires, pandemics, or made by human beings as a war or a terrorist attack, it still has a profound impact on its victims’ mental health. There is a field in psychology that studies human mental health condition during crises, emergencies and disasters.

What is a psychological trauma? How can we spot it?

What is a psychological trauma? How can we spot it?  Psychologist Serkan Elci at NPİSTANBUL Brain Hospital, which is affiliated with Uskudar University, shared information on these topics.


Anger and denial

Any disaster or crisis, whether it is of a natural origin or created by humans, may lead to mental health disorder, trauma or so-called post-traumatic stress disorder. Psychological trauma is a result of the impact of any emergency or a disaster on a person’s psyche, physical condition, communication with people and even on religious beliefs.  Psychologist Serkan elci continues: “When a person faces a disaster or an emergency, s/he often experience anger and denial. The plans and dreams are shattered, a house is burnt, a filed or a garden is devastated.”


Vulnerable groups

There is also vulnerables groups of people like children and pregnant women, who are in need of accurate provisions for safeguarding physical health and access to urgent primary medical assistance. Apart from that, psychologist Serkan Elci continues, “We as parents often ensure our children that only bad people can be punished for bad deeds, that nothing will happen to “good people”. This misconception might really increase the risk of psychological trauma in children, especially if a child believes that the wildfire or another emergency or crisis occurred because of his bad temper or behaviour.” The psychologist reminds us that children think only good about their parents and believe in justice, therefore, they are supposed to be included in vulnerable groups. 


Post-traumatic stress disorder

Psychologists work at places of emergency, crisis, disaster and claim that the first thing victims feel and think about is their health condition and overall health condition of their family members. Right after those thoughts, people tend to experience so-called “hero syndrome”, when s/he feels that it is in her or his hands to save and resque everyone around. That happens due to the levels of some hormones. This condition is dangerous because a person is not mentally and physically able to evaluate and manage possible risks and threats. “Later, a phase of awareness takes place. It is highly important to seek a psychological help exactly in this period, because this phase is basically marked with the debut of the initial symptoms”, the doctor said. One should understand that there are undoubtedly people who are able to live through troubles and devastating emergency on their own, but there are also those, who cannot endur emergency and crisis without damaging their mental health. Needless to say, an anniversary date of the crisis or disaster happened always caries some threats to mental health, because victis tend to remember it very clearly. 


Brain processes all information  

“We as psychologists often witness an absence of any symptoms or reactions of our patients, who haev survived a crisis or a disaster, sometimes they even do not cry or speak, but that does not mean that they have overcome it,” said Serkan Elci. “Therefore, a patient can complain only about loss of appetite and insomnia. What we know for sure is that our brain never forgets or earases anything, consequently, those asymptomatic people can develop panic attacks or anxiety in the future”, added the psychologist.   


Urgent medical care

Psychologist Serkan Elci has noted that psychological help is supposed to be sought only when all physical wounds have been healed, when a person has recovered physically, when his or her overall health condition is stable and nothing threatens it. Awareness of family members and friends are of quite high importance. Besides, sharing even negative emotions, fears via social media might be beneficial for one’s mental health.    


Express your emotions  

Perhaps, it seems obvious but many people who have faced any disaster, crisis or emergency forget that the best way to endure is communicating with people, sharing your thoughts, fears with someone who is able to listen to you. All in all, pyschologists recommend to avoid being alone and occupy yourself with daily routine.