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The way someone reacts to and copes with a tramatic event varies from person to person. Learn about what causes trauma and when to see a health-care provider.

What is a traumatic event?

A traumatic event is a frightening, dangerous or extremely stressful experience in which you are exposed to, or threatened with, death, injury, or violence. You might experience a trauma directly or see someone else being injured or threatened.

Many different experiences can be traumatic. These include:

  • physical abuse or assault
  • sexual abuse or assault (including trafficking)
  • psychological abuse or neglect (for instance not being properly cared for by adults or being repeatedly humiliated, harshly criticized, or intimidated)
  • witnessing violence at home or in the community
  • bullying
  • a serious car or other accident
  • a natural disaster
  • terrorism
  • a serious medical illness or procedure
  • sudden and/or violent loss of a loved one
  • refugee and war experiences

Signs and symptoms

It’s normal to have some temporary, negative reactions after a traumatic experience. But sometimes a traumatic event can have longer-lasting effects that interfere with daily life, including your ability to do your regular activities, go to school and spend time with your friends and family.

Potential reactions to trauma

There are many possible reactions to trauma. These include:

  • being unable to stop thinking about what happened or trying not to think about what happened
  • difficulty sleeping
  • nightmares
  • uncomfortable physical sensations (such as a racing heartbeat, a knot in stomach, dry mouth, dizziness)
  • anxiety
  • sadness, anger or worry
  • difficulty concentrating (for example, unable to pay attention to school work)
  • tiredness or low energy
  • loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
  • thoughts of self-harm or suicide
  • substance use issues
  • guilt about parts of the traumatic event
  • difficulty trusting others or forming close relationships

How common are traumatic experiences?

More than half of teenagers (62 per cent) have experienced a potentially traumatic event. About 5 per cent of youth develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is more common in girls than boys.

Are some people more likely to experience negative effects from trauma than others?

The negative impacts from traumatic experiences can be greater and/or longer-lasting if someone:

  • has experienced trauma in early childhood
  • has experienced multiple traumatic events
  • uses substances to help them cope
  • isolates themselves from others
  • does not seek help for their symptoms

Is there a diagnosis if someone has negative reactions to trauma?

Most people will feel scared or shaken up after a traumatic experience; this is entirely natural.

See a health-care professional, such as a doctor, psychologist, social worker or therapist, if your reactions to a trauma:

  • are lasting longer than a few days
  • are reducing your ability to go to school or interact with friends or family

To diagnose a condition, a doctor who specializes in mental health, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, will talk to you and/or your parent about your symptoms and concerns, any current stressors at home or at school and the events or situations that have triggered your reactions. Sometimes people who are exposed to trauma can be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression.

When should I see a health-care professional?

See your primary care provider if you feel worried about your body or your physical health after experiencing a trauma.

See a social worker or a mental health professional such as a psychologist or a therapist if you have difficulty coping with your reactions to a trauma.

Last updated: March 22nd 2019