posted on September 27, 2014 13:56
Helping survivors to recover this Blue Knot Day, 27 Oct 2014
By Dr Cathy Kezelman, President of Adults Surviving Child Abuse (ASCA)
With the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse well underway, the issue of child sexual abuse is at the forefront of Australia’s national agenda. We are beginning to see an enhanced understanding of the legacy of traumatic childhoods: mental and physical health challenges, as well as those of relationships, daily functioning, participation and productivity. But it’s important, now more than ever, to ensure we are spreading messages of hope and optimism – that people can and do recover.
We have learnt that institutional child sexual abuse is often accompanied by other violations including chronic neglect, emotional abuse and physical brutality. Childhood trauma comes in many guises – all forms of abuse and neglect and the gamut of adverse childhood experiences: growing up with a parent suffering from a mental illness, a parent who abuses substances, domestic violence and/or situations of separation, grief and loss. Experiences of childhood trauma and abuse are not exclusive to institutional care; in fact they are far more common within the home, family and neighbourhood.
The experience of trauma activates the instinctive physiological `fight or flight’ response. Mobilisation of this biological survival instinct leads to a `freeze’ response when the threat cannot be escaped. If trauma is not resolved the person remains on high alert and is easily triggered by seemingly minor stress, and cannot move on. But help is available – and it’s achievable.
Neuroscientific research is revolutionising the way we have traditionally understood the brain and mind. Neuroplasticity research has documented the capacity of the brain for repair, which means there is evidence that with the right support even the most severely early traumatic childhood experiences can be resolved - and when a parent has resolved their trauma, their children do well. This enables not only our health practitioners but also the wider community to advance its understanding about the impacts of trauma on the brain and, along with it, pathways to recovery, treatment and services.
This Blue Knot Day, October 27th 2014, we are focusing on the theme of ‘recovery is possible’ – because it is. We are reaching out to survivors, family, friends and loved ones with this message but it will require support from the whole nation.
An estimated five million Australian adults are living with the long-term impacts of childhood trauma or abuse – that’s at least one in four Australians over the age of 18. Often perpetrated by a person in a position of trust, most commonly a care-giver, upon our most vulnerable citizens – our children – trauma is all too common and it’s destructive. A person does not have to be actively abusive for a child to experience trauma; when a parent or care-giver has unresolved trauma, they can struggle to attune to their child’s needs and to parent effectively. Without the right support, unresolved trauma often has negative effects across the life-cycle for those who have experienced it and intergenerational impacts on the children of parents whose trauma histories are unresolved. But we can turn this issue around. Recognising trauma early on will help survivors on their pathway to recovery but to achieve this we need proper training in place for Australia’s health practitioners. We need a strong understanding of knowing how others feel, particularly those in positions who are diagnosing and treating patients.
Many survivors of childhood trauma show remarkable resilience. However many are left struggling day to day with the fundamental sense of who they are and where they fit in the world. People who have experienced childhood trauma fill our mental health appointment schedules, hospitals, detox units, homeless shelters, welfare queues, and jails. Others may seem to function well but feel empty inside, battle feelings of isolation, insecurity and shame, low self-esteem, and struggle to mediate their emotions and relationships.
Trauma is a major public health problem. Without intervention, adverse childhood experiences substantially contribute to the burden of disease, disability, entrenched social problems and early death. Strategies which survivors adopt to cope with trauma such as smoking, substance abuse, overeating and physical inactivity become risk factors for physical and mental health problems later on.
Many survivors have been re-traumatized by health professionals and services who have not received the right education and training to help adult survivors of childhood trauma on their journey to recovery. It is time for practitioners and health systems to receive the right training and change the culture and philosophy of their approaches. It is important to understand survivors as unique individuals who have experienced extremely abnormal situations yet have managed as best they could. The right care must be in place to help them make meaning of their past, resolve their trauma and work with these individuals towards health, wellbeing and a meaningful life.
It is a time for hope and optimism for adult survivors of childhood trauma. Recovery is possible but we must to work together as a community to achieve it. So join with Adults Surviving Child Abuse (ASCA) this Blue Knot Day to unite in support of the estimated five million Australian adult survivors of childhood trauma and abuse. Help us to help survivors to reclaim their lives. Donate now to http://www.givenow.com.au/blueknotday
For support call ASCA’s Professional Support Line on 1300 657 380 Mon-Sun 9am-5pm EST or visit www.asca.org.au for more information. ASCA is the leading national organisation working to improve the lives of Australian adults who have experienced childhood trauma and abuse.