Divorce. Watching a loved one decline. A sudden death. Sexual assault. Terrorist attacks. Mass shootings. Natural disasters.
These events are difficult to experience or witness—to say the least. They can take a drastic toll on us. But, sometimes, it can go beyond that. In some cases, these life traumas can lead to depression.
When people go through extremely stressful situations known as life traumas, the effect can be enormous. They may not be able to sleep, they may experience flashbacks, or they may even develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Sometimes, simply hearing about traumatic events can be so damaging that it can lead to depression as well.
In fact, a 2013 study done by researchers at the University of Liverpool showed that traumatic life events are the single biggest cause of anxiety and depression, followed by a family history of mental illness and income and education levels.
“Depression and anxiety are not simple conditions and there is no single cause,” said Professor Peter Kinderman, Head of the Institute of Psychology, Health and Society who lead the research. “Whilst we know that a person’s genetics and life circumstances contribute to mental health problems, the results showed that traumatic life events are the main reason people suffer from anxiety and depression. However, the way a person thinks about, and deals with, stressful events is as much an indicator of the level of stress and anxiety they feel.”
Symptoms of Trauma-Induced Depression
When a person experiences a trauma, it’s an overwhelming shock to their equilibrium, according to goodtherapy.com, an association of mental health professionals from more than 30 countries worldwide, and rehab and treatment centers across the U.S.
This trauma can cause many effects on their mental and physical well-being. According to Everyday Health and the Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance, initial symptoms of trauma-induced depression can include:
- Extreme sadness
- Frequent crying
- Feelings of loss
- Emotional numbness
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty sleeping
- Recurring memories/flashbacks
- Nightmares about the traumatic event
- Social withdrawal
After experiencing a life trauma, these feelings and experiences are completely normal. But if they persist for more than two weeks, start to interfere with daily life, or expand to the point of thinking about suicide, then they have become symptoms of more serious depression that should be treated by a professional.
Trauma-Induced Depression Treatment
According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, many studies have shown that our brain chemistry actually changes in response to trauma. As a result, the effects of experiencing a traumatic situation aren’t something you can realistically “snap out of” or “just get over.”
To truly begin to heal after a life trauma, it’s imperative that you seek professional help. This typically leads to three things:
- Medical intervention: Because depression involves a chemical imbalance in the brain, effective medications can help bring these chemicals back into balance.
- Therapeutic assistance: Talking to a mental health professional about a traumatic experience can work wonders. Simply allowing someone to really listen to your story and give you helpful advice can make a world of difference.
- Peer support: Knowing that you aren’t alone in your struggle can be a weight lifted off your shoulders. Having a peer—or a peer group—to listen and support you is priceless. In addition, you can share helpful advice with each other.
As you seek professional help to deal with trauma-induced depression, there are a few tried-and-true things you can do to help you cope as well:
- Spend more time with friends and family
- Take part in activities you enjoy
- Exercise regularly
- Practice relaxation techniques
Helping Others Cope
Unfortunately, no one is immune to trauma or depression. If a loved one has gone through a traumatic experience and/or is experiencing depression, it’s important to act in a proactive, compassionate way. Here are a few things to do to help others cope:
- Listen to your loved one and watch for cries for help. When someone expresses their feelings to you, truly listen to what they’re saying. If they mention suicide at all, take it seriously. Counselors at the National Suicide Prevention Hotline are available 24/7. The number is 800-273-TALK (8255), and the service is always free and confidential.
- Show your support. Do your best to be understanding, patient, and encouraging. Invite your loved one to go to social events with you—or simply to come to your place for a visit.
- Be compassionate. Don’t say things like “get on with your life” or “it’s time to get over it.” Put yourself in their shoes and give as kindhearted feedback as possible.
- Help your loved one find professional help. This might include finding a few therapy options or even making an appointment for your loved one.
The Light at the End of the Tunnel
Although life is often beautiful, it can also be filled with traumatic situations that leave us feeling depressed. If you’ve experienced a life trauma, it’s important to recognize the symptoms, realize that you’re not alone, and get much-needed help. By taking the right steps toward healing, you can leave trauma-induced depression in your past.