ACTIVIST TRAUMA SUPPORT (Martin Shaw)
Notes from the Activist Trauma Support workshop
In answer to the question Who cares? About trauma, it is nearly always people who have been traumatised or close to somebody who has been traumatised.
The aim of our work is to raise awareness, provide emotional first aid and support and impartial information before during and after actions. We cannot provide counselling ourselves.
And it seams that this is a growing number because groups are starting in Holland, Germany, Israel/Palestine and the USA.
People are not usually that surprised if the police beet them up but they can be very disappointed if their friends and fellow activist don’t support them. This lack of support (or sometimes perceived lack) can be more damaging than the original incident.
Apparently when people have been traumatised their mind takes a Snap shot of the incident(s) so that the brain can process it later and try and learn how to avoid it reoccurring. They therefore have triggers that can bring back much of the original terror/feelings, this make be a sight, sound, smell etc. This means that if the original trauma was caused by the police then contact with them make be retraumatising.
A large part of our work is trying to overcome the stigma a prejudice around all forms of mental health issues. In particular to say that there is no shame in having physiological as well as physical reactions to being attacked and abused.
This work is difficult but rewarding. We have to take great care to do no harm, but people do not have to the “experts” to be able to help. Often “simply” listening and supporting people can really help a lot.
Often people have had several traumas in their lives and it can be one more incidence that make it very hard to cope with…the straw that breaks the camels back….The apparent symptoms and go up and down, so just because somebody is feeling good today does not necessarily mean that it is over.
One of the things we noticed whilst doing the support work at the G8 in Scotland was that once you start dealing with one form of mental health issue it is very difficult to draw any meaningful distinctions between different issues. Therefore we ended up dealing with all and any sort of physiological issues….such as people suffering from chronic lack of sleep and over stress.
Within the group there is an on going debate about the focus of the group. Should we be working on “sustainable activisum” or focusing on trauma? Should burn out become part of our core work…and if so what on earth should we do about it? In military terms this is called “mission creep” which always makes me laugh.
Quite a few people find the term Trauma off putting in several ways, this is also an ongoing debate. One of the ways we are trying to destigmatise going to “the trauma group” is by including prisoner support and organising missing persons into our work. – as reuniting people with there loved ones is often the best way to prevent trauma.
Emotional wounds can last longer than physical one. They can be harder so see and treat, but just as physical wounds they can fester and get worse if ignored.
call 07962 406940
read Judith Herman (2001) Trauma and Recovery: From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror Rivers Oram Press/Pandora List