Taiwo Odesola (MSW)
Trauma-informed care is a significant approach in human services specialization as it is assumed that an individual has possibility of experiencing one history of trauma in their life-time. The primary intention of trauma-informed care is not to treat symptoms related with sexual, emotional and physical abuse or other traumatic experience which affect human but rather focus on support services that is primarily accessible and appropriate to individuals experiencing the trauma. During COVID-19 pandemic, every individual is exposed since the virus is already entry the stage of community transmission. For people who have experienced trauma previously in their lives, the fear they are experiencing amid COVID-19 may be strong. Health threats from the coronavirus, social distancing measures, economic fears, and isolation all have the potential to retrigger people who have already experienced traumatic events.
Trauma isn’t rare. Statistics show that trauma is pervasive. According to the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, (2019) about 60% of men and 50% of women experience at least one trauma in their lives and about 25% of the Nigerian population suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). These prevalence statistics are likely to increase with the trauma COVID-19 has already caused and will continue to cause long after the virus is gone. Given the ubiquity of trauma, TIC is an acknowledgment that a past event, multiple events, or a set of circumstances can cause intense physical and psychological stress, which creates vulnerability and influences one’s actions, reactions, and perceptions thereafter. Thus, TIC is important in helping clinicians and members of the community reframe their judgment of those who may seem difficult, rude, non-compliant, or “crazy” and help them understand that their actions or demeanor may be related to past or current trauma. TIC further ensures that a sense of safety can be created so that someone with trauma can receive proper care and attention.
Importance of Trauma informed care during COVID-19 pandemic
Although the COVID-19 pandemic require clinicians and community workers to focus on rehabilitation and treatment that it care services during the pandemic must be informed care, regardless of disclosure of prior trauma. In fact, TIC can be implemented in the same manner other universal precautions – to maintain hygiene or to address low literacy – are undertaken across an organization in providing medical care. Many individuals will not disclose their trauma, some may not even realize underlying trauma they carry with them. How patients react may suggest the presence of trauma. These reactions may be emotional, physical, cognitive, behavioral, or existential. Those experiencing trauma may not be able to verbalize what they are experiencing and many reactions will come in the form of non-verbal cues such as becoming stiff, pulling away, shaking uncontrollably, startling, crying, becoming disoriented or confused, sweating, becoming irritable, seeming uncooperative or defensive, acting aggressively, shutting down, or changing tone or pace of communications. Being aware of these reactions can help clinicians and the community recognize trauma and properly attend to reactions as they arise. Protocols of care that isolate patients with COVID-19 may inadvertently limit the expression and recognition of these reactions, hindering TIC when it is not an existing competency of universal application
Implementing TIC helps everyone, as this form of care establishes environments where individuals feel protected and empowered. Yet, COVID-19 uniquely highlights the importance of TIC. Existing trauma, whether from previous medical encounters, abuse, or other sources may prevent individuals from seeking care if they were to develop symptoms of COVID-19 or may hinder clinicians’ efforts to treat them (e.g., by rejecting auscultation to avoid being touched, or a procedure that requires lying still because this instruction replicates an abuser’s request). This understandable reluctance to seek care may unintentionally put others at risk of contracting the virus. Patients with medical trauma may find it difficult to trust clinicians. These individuals may fear re-traumatization and forgo much needed care. And if they do seek medical care, clinicians may not understand trauma reactions patients may have, like being reticent to follow orders, being more confrontational, showing signs of panic attacks, or other behaviors and reactions.
Principles of Trauma-Informed Care
Chart by the Institute on Trauma and Trauma-Informed Care (2015)
The Five Guiding Principles are; safety, choice, collaboration, trustworthiness and empowerment. Ensuring that the physical and emotional safety of an individual is addressed is the first important step to providing Trauma-Informed Care. Next, the individual needs to know that the provider is trustworthy. Trustworthiness can be evident in the establishment and consistency of boundaries and the clarity of what is expected in regards to tasks. Additionally, the more choice an individual has and the more control they have over their service experience through a collaborative effort with service providers, the more likely the individual will participate in services and the more effective the services may be. Finally, focusing on an individual’s strengths and empowering them to build on those strengths while developing stronger coping skills provides a healthy foundation for individuals to fall back on if and when they stop receiving services.
It has been projected that, anxiety, stigma, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) would increase. It is crucial to consider people’s experiences of COVID-19 related trauma in the context of their psychosocial circumstances, including existing mental disorder and socioeconomic position (The Lancet, 2020). The effect of the pandemic on survivors, family and relatives is of optimum concern here. One Critical care Physician has said that, “After surviving severe COVID’19, the issue to be faced with the most in the coming months is how we’re going to help people recover”.
So, protecting survivors’ mental health, Supporting Healing and recovery must be our main focus. I will like to raise the following suggestions for survivors’ care both during Covid’19 and after:
- Open and honest communication
- Training on trauma management for all Health practitioners including Medical social workers.
- Creative approaches to supporting people who are vulnerable to traumatic effects of the crisis.
- Be calm and listen to survivors
- Show more concerns for survivors or their relatives, to show more concern, there might be a need to put on personal protections such as gloves and nose masks, hold their hands and stroke their arm for like 2 minutes.
- Create an environment where survivors feel physically & emotionally safe.
- Clients with dementia may need written reminder posted on the walls instructing them to wash their hands, use sanitizer or use facemask.
- Offer psychological support to people who need it.
- Assessment should be made simple and enable clients to have a voice in the decision.
- Instead of isolating survivors, we are all in this together, Covid’19 is a Global challenge and we must take a Global approach to its treatment. Virtual support groups can be created and run effectively within Nigeria as a country or globally. Social platforms such as telegram, Facebook or Zoom, can be used which will involve health practitioners like as Doctors, Medical social workers and other Mental health practitioners. I have personally tested these platforms on some burn survivors and I recommend it as an effective treatment plan for Covid’19 survivors.
- Webinar and virtual counseling sessions focusing on survivors’ recovery should be of paramount interest.
- Health practitioners should include Trauma therapy as part of the treatment plan such mindfulness practice and coping skills on mobile phones.
Conclusively, Trauma-Informed Care understands and considers the pervasive nature of trauma and promotes environments of healing and recovery rather than practices and services that may inadvertently re-traumatize. More importantly, COVID-19 presents many new challenges to community life and health care. Among those challenges is implementing Trauma Informed Care during a pandemic when resources are in short supply, systems are overwhelmed, and we all face the unknown every day. However, it is because of these dire issues that TIC must be implemented. Without trauma informed care, we risk individuals not seeking care and exponential growth of trauma among communities living in fear and in those who survive.
Ms Taiwo Odesola, a Nigerian Social worker. She’s been involved in the promotion of mental health among teenage and young persons for some years. She holds a Master of Social Work from the University of Ibadan. She is a Trauma Recovery Coach and Manager at Scars2stars Initiative, this is a UK Based Organization that focuses on helping people living with scars especially burn survivors, to recover and turn their scars to stars using several psychosocial therapies. She is a pro bono Program Officer of Divine Well Global Foundation.
- COVID trauma response: trauma-informed mental health support. Retrieved from https://www.nationalelfservice.net/mental-health/ptsd/covid-trauma-response/ on 6/26/2020.
- How will the world be different after covid’19; retrieved from https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2020/06/how-will-the-world-be-different-after-COVID-19.htm
- Kelly Servick, April 2020. For survivors of severe COVID-19, beating the virus is just the beginning. Article retrieved 26/06/2020 from; www.sciencemag.org
- Photo by Raphael Lovaski on Unsplash
- Terrey L. Hatcher, (May 2020). Integrating Trauma-Informed Care in Home Health: COVID-19 Considerations. Retrieved on 6/27/2020, from; https://www.relias.com/blog/integrating-trauma-informed-care-home-health *