We support women and girls in war and crisis zones

Psychological trauma

Overwhelming feeling of helplessness; a survival response to life-threatening occurrences

A psychological trauma destroys the feeling of security and it attacks a human’s basic sense of trust. Personal boundaries are violated, self-esteem is undermined and an overwhelming feeling of helplessness is created. As a result, panic attacks, depression, chronic pain or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can impair the life of the victims for many years.

In areas of war and conflict, the population is confronted by a number of different burdensome experiences and stressors, including many traumatic experiences: the latter are defined as presenting an existential threat to physical and psychological integrity. For the person affected, the experience is one of extreme helplessness and powerlessness.

Symptoms of psychotrauma

Many people can process their experience of a road traffic accident or a natural disaster without feeling overly affected in the long term. However, in contrast, half of all survivors of torture, ongoing domestic violence or sexualised violence in a conflict context report that they suffer from clear psychological, physical and social long-term consequences. These include a lack of motivation and a tendency to withdraw from social life, as well as chronic pains or severe sleep disturbances. Many also report chronic stress reactions, with anxiety, irritability or difficulties concentrating.

Severity and duration of psychotrauma

The severity and persistence of these consequences is dependent not only on the severity of the traumatic events or the personality of the survivor, but very significantly on the experiences which the affected person has afterwards. In war and post-conflict regions, ongoing insecurity, endangerment and poverty, and – in the case of rape – stigmatisation and social exclusion, can all exacerbate the traumatic stress reactions. If individuals, families or whole regions are repeatedly subjected to traumatic events, this often has fundamental, structural consequences: Personality and identity, values, regulation of relationships and social cohesion are all affected.

How does medica mondiale understand trauma?

An understanding which is less clinical and more socio-political, considering trauma and its systemic effects:

  • Trauma as an attack on life and survival; destruction of social relationships.
  • Trauma as a process with trans-generational consequences; trauma is not a singular event.
  • Causes and consequences of violence should not be individualised, but instead need to be placed in context.
  • A stronger and more differentiated approach to the issues surrounding trauma.