Not everyone who experiences a trauma will develop mental health issues. For some people, experiencing trauma may trigger the onset of a mental health condition. For other people with existing mental health issues, their symptoms can become worse and it can make recovery from trauma more difficult. Some people experience one mental health condition, some experience multiple. Following a trauma, the most common mental health issue is PTSD, however it is possible to also experience anxiety, depression, and substance use.
Anxiety is a normal response to threats or danger (e.g. being chased by a vicious dog) and involves a number of physical (e.g. heart rate increase), mental (e.g. mind becomes focused on danger) and behavioural (e.g. wanting to escape) changes that help us to survive. When we experience a high level of stress, such as a traumatic event, this can result in ongoing anxiety. Anxiety becomes a problem when we respond to danger when there is no longer any danger present. Anxiety can also become a problem when it interferes in our everyday lives. People with anxiety can find they avoid activities or people (e.g. going to the shops), and can worry about something specific, or worry about everything. Usually we are worried or stressed about something in the future.
We all experience changes in mood and it is normal to have periods of feeling flat or down. But sometimes we can find ourselves feeling down most of the time. Along with low mood, symptoms of depression include loss of interest in activities and withdrawal from people, physical symptoms (e.g. sleep difficulties and fatigue), feelings of hopelessness and self-criticism. People can become depressed for a variety of reasons and often there is a combination of factors. Major life stressors including experiencing trauma can be a trigger for depression.
Some people increase their alcohol or substance use after experiencing trauma. Often this increase is a way of managing symptoms that arise after trauma (e.g. nightmares or worry). For some, this increase in alcohol or substance use can mean that their bodies become reliant, and they might experience cravings or withdrawal symptoms when trying to cut down or stop. While using substances can sometimes provide short-term relief from difficult symptoms, it makes recovery more difficult and can start causing problems in important areas in our lives (e.g. relationships or work).