Experiencing a traumatic even can leave deep scars in the psyche. These are the events that shock us—that we are totally unprepared to process emotionally. Our sensibilities and ability to cope with the trauma are simply overwhelmed. Many times the response to a trauma is delayed, buried deep in our subconscious until it demands to be acknowledged and dealt with. This is a protective measure, a way of delaying the realization that something so life-altering has occurred.
Right alongside the traumatic experience lay the emotional fallout. Some individuals may end up with a trauma disorder, involving intense anxiety. Others may take up substance abuse as a means of numbing the emotional pain caused by the traumatic event. But what is traumatic depression?
Traumatic depression is the residual emotional response to the outcome of the trauma. Maybe the trauma involved the sudden and unexpected death of a loved one. Maybe it was a natural disaster that left the family homeless. Possibly you were sexually or physically assaulted. Or, it might have been a terrible trauma that took the life of a comrade or friend while sparing you. Feelings of depression following an intense event such as these are understandable.
What is Traumatic Depression?
When asking what is traumatic depression, it will be noticed that the terms “situational depression” and “reactive depression” are also used to describe this psychological state. Traumatic depression is, in essence, an emotional response to the traumatic event that was witnessed or experienced. Some individuals might feel sadness and feelings of guilt—hallmarks of depression, where others may react with symptoms of anxiety. Each one of us is wired uniquely, which is what will influence our own unique emotional response to a trauma.
Symptoms of trauma-induced depression include:
- Persistent sadness, excessive crying
- Numbness, inability to experience feelings, feelings of disconnectedness, detachment
- Shifting emotions—shock, guilt, denial, or self-blame, shame, anger
- Irritability, anxiousness, nervousness,
- Becoming pessimistic or indifferent, malaise
- Difficulty concentrating
- Recurring memories, nightmares, or flashbacks about the trauma
- Social withdrawal, isolation, strained personal relationships
- Physical symptoms such as unexplained aches and pains, nausea, fatigue, loss of energy
- Changes in eating habits, loss of appetite
- Changed in sleeping patterns
- Increased consumption of alcohol
When the signs of traumatic depression begin to cause disruption in daily life functioning it is time to visit a mental health provider who can help you begin to process and manage the trauma.
Symptoms of PTSD
The traumatic event is the catalyst for the psychological struggle that follows. Some people may process through the trauma experience in a month or less, and then move forward without any serious impairment. However, others who were party to a traumatic event may experience lingering psychological effects. Symptoms of PTSD last more than one month and might include:
- Intrusive thoughts and memories about the traumatic event(s)
- Nightmares or flashbacks
- Easily startled
- Emotional numbness
- Sleep disturbances
- Reliving the trauma
- Anger, aggressive behavior
- Avoiding people, places, or situations that trigger memories or emotions
- Substance abuse
Symptoms of Depression
Depression is a co-occurring disorder that accompanies the PTSD. Depression affects more than 17 million people each year, and is a complex mental health disorder on its own. When coupled with trauma, the depression can be intense and cause major impairment in daily functioning.
Symptoms of depression include:
- Persistent feelings of sadness and despair
- Slowed motor activity
- Loss of interest in usual activities
- Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
- Sudden weight gain or loss
- Sleep problems, like insomnia or hypersomnia
- Feelings of guilt or shame
- Suicidal thoughts
Coping with Depression Following a Trauma
When dealing with traumatic depression, we may feel frustrated that we are not snapping back to our old selves fast enough for our liking. The thing about both depression and trauma is that it just takes time to heal. Our senses have been overwhelmed by the disturbing event, something that doesn’t just fix itself overnight.
Meanwhile, be kind to yourself and allow yourself the space and time to heal at a gradual pace. Some tips for coping with life post-trauma include:
- Get active. Just getting outside and moving can be very therapeutic. Exercise stokes the brain chemicals called endorphins, which can improve mood.
- Pamper yourself. Get a pedicure, have a massage, go on a little weekend trip. Do whatever feels conducive to healing to help your spirit mend.
- Find your passions. Return to activities that gave you joy in the past, or discover new ones. Rekindle your passions and that will help distract you from your pain.
- Limit the use of alcohol. It might be tempting to lean on alcohol a bit more than usual during this time, but alcohol is a depressant and will only make symptoms worse.
- Get quality sleep. Nothing wrecks your mood or your day like a bad night’s sleep. Keep a regular sleep routine and shut off electronic devices to one hour before bedtime.
Treatment for Traumatic-Induced Depression
Getting professional help can help answer any questions you have regarding what is traumatic depression. The therapist can help by prescribing antidepressants, psychotherapy, and will direct you to a support group for trauma support.
Antidepressant drug therapy: These medications remain the cornerstone treatment for managing the effects of depression. The most commonly prescribed antidepressants are called SSRIs, and include Paxil, Lexapro, Prozac, and Zoloft. These drugs do have associated side effects, however, and may not be effective in a large percentage of patients.
Psychotherapy: In sessions with a psychotherapist you will be able to walk through all the feelings and emotional struggles you are left with after witnessing or experiencing firsthand a traumatic event. The therapist can utilized certain therapies, such as prolonged exposure therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, to guide you through the after effects and into a better place emotionally.
Support groups: There are groups that have formed to help each other cope with and share about their trauma. These gatherings can be very beneficial for someone winding through the after effects of a trauma, as they offer peer support and a place to openly express your feelings.