Dumfries & Galloway Health & Social Care

Understanding Trauma in Children and Young People

What is Trauma

"Trauma is a word that describes the way we can feel when we go through difficult times, sometimes these are called negative life experiences".

They can be one big event or can be something that happens repeatedly or over a long time which has a negative impact on you.

There are lots of challenging and difficult things that can happen in our lives but here are some examples of things that might lead to a person experiencing trauma:

When things like this happen, everyone deals with it differently. Some people might feel a bit anxious afterwards but it might not last long.

Unfortunately, some people continue to experience difficult thoughts and feelings connected to this event for a long time afterwards.

This is what we call ‘trauma’. It is important to remember that not everyone who goes through something difficult will experience trauma because of it, but for some people this can have a big impact on their life and can have these feelings for a longer time.

If you have experienced multiple negative events such as abuse, neglect or domestic violence then you may experienced what is sometimes know as “developmental trauma”. Developmental trauma usually, but not always, occurs in the developing life of a child. People who have experienced developmental trauma may experience difficulties with relationships, their view of themselves and others.

How might this affect me?

Having lots of big emotions and feelings after you have experienced trauma is normal, even though it doesn’t seem like it. When something traumatic happens to us, our brains might have been so focused on trying to keep us safe that they don’t have time to process and file away the memories like they do with other memories.

This means that memories of the trauma float around, wanting us to process them and “popping up” in dreams or during the day in the hope that they can get sorted into our memory ‘filing cabinet’.

This is why some people might have flashbacks for a day or two after an event but then they get better, their memory was sorted and filed away as it should be. But as these memories are scary, upsetting or unpleasant, lots of people try to switch them off or ‘block’ them out of their heads to make themselves feel better.

Although this works for a while, it prevents the memory being sorted and filed away, leaving it still floating around wanting to be processed. Over time this becomes more of a problem and becomes what we call ‘PTSD’

PSTD is a condition which affect your day to day life. The symptoms of this are:

People who have experienced developmental trauma may also experience other difficulties either with PTSD symptoms or not. 

What can I do to help myself?

Talk to someone you trust, this might be a friend, parent, teacher or youth worker etc.

You don’t have to tell them about the trauma or what happened to you, but letting someone know you are struggling can help you get the right support and help others understand why you might be feeling stressed or overwhelmed.

Get some advice from professionals. Contact Us.

When should I make a referral?

A referral to CAMHS might be appropriate when you have been experiencing these symptoms for a period of time and it is affecting your day to day life.

It is important to remember that there is a natural period of time your brain needs to recover from a traumatic event however if this continues for a long period of time it may be the right time to seek support from a mental health professional.

What can I expect?

  1. A member of the team will meet with you to talk about your experiences.
  2. We usually ask about how your home life is, the things you enjoy and what has been making day to day life challenging for you.
  3. When we meet young people who have experienced trauma, we try to let you guide the session and won’t pressure you to talk about experiences you don’t feel comfortable or ready to discuss.
  4. It may be necessary to have a basic understanding of what brought you to CAMHS but we understand talking about traumatic experiences may take time, if that is the case we may agree to meet with you again or have an open honest discussion about whether now is the right time to seek CAMHS support.


We have also linked some websites below which might be useful:

PTSD & Mental Health | Coping With PTSD | YoungMinds

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – NHS

What is PTSD? – Mind

Beacon House Therapeutic Services and Trauma Team 

UK Trauma Council

There are lots of helplines available to young people if you feel you need to talk. 

Below are some websites and contact numbers for them: 

Childline: 0800 11 11  Samaritans: 116 123 

Understanding Trauma for Parents & Carers

How do I know if my child has trauma?

Your child may be experiencing trauma if, following a one-off incident or recurring incidents they display the above symptoms. You may notice your child:

Remember this can be normal for a young person following difficult experiences however if you notice these changes continue for a long period of time after a frightening event it may be worth getting some advice.

How might this affect them?

It is important to allow your child to guide the support they need. Sometimes we feel that after a frightening event it is important a young person talks about this and they will feel better. 

This can be the case for some young people however for some young people talking about the event/s can take time and requires a lot of support.

Try not to pressure your child to talk if they don’t want to however if they do want to discuss their experiences, allow them to guide the conversation.

When might a referral be appropriate?

A member of the team will usually try to understand your child’s development, environment, current functioning and mental state to understand the risk in order to change it. 

Depending on the age of your child we might work with them directly, or we might focus on helping you to support them.

Remember not everyone who experiences trauma needs to talk about it to recover.

It is important to help your child develop skills to manage some of the symptoms first. This way if they need to talk about their trauma it will be less overwhelming.

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