What to expect after a loved one experiences a traumatic event

it can have a profound effect on their state of mind, and family members should be prepared for changes in their moods and behaviours.


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What changes in behaviour can I expect?


Its common for people who have suffered a traumatic event, to become distant or shut others out and it can be difficult to know what to do. Traumatic experiences can leave residual painful memories which are difficult for the sufferer to process. They may, therefore, be irritable, sad, unmotivated, lethargic, numb or moody a lot of time following the incident. 

They may also remain in denial, refuse any assistance or resort to substance abuse to avoid uncomfortable feelings and memories. These are often signs they are not coping but are finding it difficult to ask for help.

Coping as the partner of someone who has experienced trauma


Supporting someone who has experienced trauma can be demanding and draining and your own physical and mental health can suffer. If you don’t look after yourself you won’t be in a good position to help someone else. Therefore its vital for family members and especially spouses, to get the support and time out that they need.

  • Take time to look after your own health and to relax
  • Reach out to friends and family
  • Seek out the assistance of a support group in your community
  • See a counselor

What can you do to assist?


Aside from simply being there to love and support your friend or family member, there are some practical steps you can take to assist them physically and emotionally in their recovery.

  1. Re-establish normal routine. This provides predictability and control.
  2. Provide time and space for your loved one to deal with the stressful event they have experienced. If possible, providing practical support so that they can have regular quiet and relaxing time.
  3. Encourage your loved one to limit their exposure to news broadcasts or other reminders of the event.
  4. Ensure your loved one looks after their physical need for rest, nourishment, exercise and relaxation.
  5. Support your loved one to limit coffee, alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes.
  6. Try to plan an activity with your loved one that they will enjoy, every day.
  7. Acknowledge even small achievements as your loved one reaches them. It is sometimes hard for them to see their own progress.
  8. If your loved one is still unable to cope with their trauma after a few weeks, seek professional help and support.


Talking with your loved one about their traumatic event can be either healing or harmful depending on how it is done. Here are a few tips for beneficial communication.

  • If they don’t want to talk about the stressful event, don’t force them, but still spend time with them talking about other things.
  • If they are ready to talk about the trauma be sure to minimise interruptions and ensure you have lots of time to give them.
  • Reassure them that what they are experiencing is normal considering what they have been through.
  • If they become too distressed, allow them to stop and resume the conversation later or on another occasion.
  • If they become upset, don’t feel you must make their distress go away, its natural to become upset when coming to terms with a traumatic experience.
  • Don’t interrupt, talk about yourself, or offer reassurances such as “I know how you feel” or “You’ll be ok.”
  • Acknowledge that they are going through a tough time and that it is difficult.

Where can you get further help and support?


There are many government and not for profit organisations in Australia that can provide help and support in dealing with past trauma with support groups, training, trauma counseling and a range of other services. Whether you are the one suffering from trauma or if it is someone you love, seek out options for further support, before you need it. 

The following organisations operate in South East Queensland:

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Last update on:
May 29, 2018
Disclaimer: This information is designed for general information in relation to Queensland compensation law. It does not constitute legal advice. We strongly recommend you seek legal advice in regards to your specific situation. For expert advice call 1800 266 801 or chat via live chat to arrange free initial advice with our Principal lawyer, Greg Smith.

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