What’s on the line? | Healthwatch Essex Trauma Ambassadors

The Healthwatch Essex Trauma Ambassador Group is a group of individuals who have come together to utilize their skills and lived experiences to help inform, shape and develop health, care and wellbeing services in line with the aims and ethos of Healthwatch Essex.

Trauma can be defined as an event, or series of events, which are very stressful, frightening, distressing and/or disturbing. Causes of trauma include domestic abuse, sexual abuse, exposure to crime and bereavement; however, it is very much an individual reaction and there is no exhaustive list of causes. It is unusual for any of us to go through our life without experiencing some kind of trauma.

Trauma can be triggered at any stage in a person’s life and occurs when some kind of external factor causes them to recall the event which was traumatic to them. Again, triggers are very personal and hugely varied, but some common examples can include a smell, visual object or a certain word or phrase. The reactions caused by trauma are equally unique, but often can be likened to the symptoms of a panic attack. The instinct of the individual may well be to retreat, shut down on an emotional and/or communicative level, or to react with a desire to protect themselves. Reactions can manifest on a physical, emotional and psychological manner. The effects have a huge impact on the individual personally, not just in the moment when the trigger occurs but for some time after. They can be hugely debilitating and distressing for the individual concerned.

Trauma is by nature unpredictable and affects so many areas of life for those who live with it. It can manifest in the most mundane and unexpected of situations; for example, at a dental appointment or visiting a chiropractor, chatting with another carer at a support group or taking your child for a health check. It can result in the individual withdrawing and disengaging from these services, which leaves them in a position where they may not receive the level of care and support that they need and are entitled to.

It is these inequalities that we aim to address, and to do this ‘we need to bring change’, as Rosie, one of our Trauma Ambassador’s states. The Trauma Ambassador Group, with each individual member’s lived experience of trauma, has come together with the following aims.

  1. To educate and enhance the knowledge and understanding of trauma in those who commission, provide and deliver our health, care and wellbeing services with the aim of improving these services.
  2. To raise awareness of the effects of experiencing and living with trauma, thus creating better understanding within the public and professionals.
  3. To encourage those in similar situations to access support and empower them to improve their experiences.

Information & Guidance Team Manager, Sharon, with Trauma Ambassador, Karen.

Karen, one of our Trauma Ambassadors, believes that it is only by sharing our own experiences and ‘being a voice’ that we can empower others to come forward to access support; ‘From my point of view now, linking in with Healthwatch, it’s great because I am being listened to and you are interested in what I’ve got to say, and even though what I’ve gone through was atrocious and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, the fact now is I feel like I’m actually doing something good with it. And that is helping me. Because I think I’ll always be healing, I don’t think I’ll ever be over it.’

John, her fellow Ambassador, adds “Being a male victim of child sexual abuse, belonging to the TAG has enabled me to link up with other survivors who I would not have had the opportunity to meet. Together we are a stronger voice in trying to get improvements to services and to raise greater understanding around the needs of Trauma survivors. Many Trauma survivors face severe isolation, so being part of a group greatly helps in getting our messages across and through Healthwatch Essex we have been able to reach organisations that individually we would not have access to”.

Trauma can be challenging to manage in day-to-day life, but there is support for those living with it and those who care about them. Our trained and knowledgeable Information & Guidance Team are here to offer a listening ear and support with finding a pathway forward. Contact them by telephoning 0300 500 1895, email info@healthwatchessex.org.uk or text/WhatsApp 07712 395398.

If you would like to find out more about our Trauma Ambassador Group, please contact sharon.westfield-de-cortez@healthwatchessex.org.uk or call the Information & Guidance Team on the contact details above.