According to the American Psychological Association (APA), trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster. However, a person may experience trauma as a response to any event they find physically or emotionally threatening or harmful. A traumatised person can feel a range of emotions both immediately after the event and in the long term (https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/artiles/trauma).
They may feel overwhelmed, helpless, shocked, or have difficulty processing their experiences. Trauma can also cause physical symptoms and long-term effects on a person’s well-being. If symptoms persist and do not decrease in severity, it can indicate that the trauma has developed into a mental health disorder called post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] (Legg & Leonard, 2020).
The focus of this blog is firstly on natural disasters which are almost always unforeseen. A natural disaster is a natural occurrence that can cause catastrophic situations. When a natural disaster occurs, normal activities are disrupted abruptly, and the affected people become helpless. All aspects of human living, including biological, social, and physical ones, are affected and the impact of the calamity is felt as soon as it happens. Natural catastrophes are classified into meteorological, space, and geological disasters. They are made up of floods, hurricanes, wildfires, landslides, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, drought, and heatwaves. (https://briefly.co.za/15459-worst-natural-disasters-south-africa.html)
Sinkholes are quite common in parts of the Gauteng province; this can be attributed to the abundance of dolomite rock, according to Geoscience. Mostly circular in motion with varying depths and widths, they mostly happen without a single warning, which makes them quite dangerous. There have been cases of people that have lost their lives after falling into sinkholes, mainly when driving around a familiar environment but not knowing about the occurrence of a sinkhole. This is the reason why sinkholes make it to the list of natural disasters (https://briefly.co.za/15459-worst-natural-disasters-south-africa.html). It is imperative that health and emergency personnel realise that each person involved in a disaster or any traumatic situation is part of a family and/or group and that everyone will be affected by the incident.
Violence leading to trauma
Violence is always a social construction, and consequently, acts of violence considered as legitimate in one society or cultural group may be considered illegitimate or culturally unacceptable in another (Mckendrick & Hoffmann, 1990). In many academic papers or resources, both physical and psychological components are included in the definition of violence, and definitions of violence can be seen to include not only abuse but also neglect. This infers two dimensions of violence: acts of commission and acts of omission (Mckendrick & Hoffmann, 1990). Walter (1969, cited in Mckendrick & Hoffmann, 1990) defines violence as: Destructive harm…including not only physical assaults that damage the body, but also…the many techniques of inflicting harm by mental or emotional means.
In a paper entitled Public Health and Violence Prevention by Mercy, Rosenberg, Powell, Broome and Roper (1993) the following definition of violence is cited:
…the threatened or actual use of physical force or power against another person, against oneself, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death or deprivation.
Etzioni (1971) advocates, however, that dissimilarity can be made between physical violence and acts of economic or psychological coercion. The differentiation is linked to the issue of the victim’s greater scope for “choice” in psychological abuse, and the greater threat of death inherent in physical assault, Etzioni (1971) writes:
While economic and psychic pressures can be very powerful indeed, except in limited conditions, they leave the ultimate decision to the subject – the pressures reduce but do not eliminate his/her freedom. When physical force is used, however – when a person is jailed, gagged, or shot – under most conditions she/he has no choice left in the matter.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Trauma whether physical, social, financial or emotional of nature, causes post-traumatic stress syndrome most of the time. The disorder presumes that a person has experienced a traumatic event involving actual or threatened death or injury to themselves or others, and where they felt fear, helplessness or horror. There are three main symptom clusters in PTSD.
• First, the intrusive cluster. Intrusions can take the form of repeated, unwanted and uncontrollable thoughts of the trauma, and can include nightmares and/or flashbacks.
• Second, the avoidant cluster. These symptoms consist of a person’s attempt to reduce exposure to people or places that may elicit memories of the event (or intrusive symptoms). This also involves symptoms such as social withdrawal, emotional numbing and a sense of loss of pleasure.
• The final category is termed hyperarousal, and refers to physiological signs of increased arousal, such as hypervigilance, or increased startle response.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a diagnostic category used to describe symptoms arising from emotionally traumatic experience(s). According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition or DSM-IV (American Psychiatric Association, 1996).