Being trauma informed

To ensure Mental Health Week events and activities are safe and respectful of people with lived experience of mental illness, it is important to conduct them in a trauma-informed way.

What is “trauma-informed”?

From the Mental Health Coordinating Council’s TAFESA Cert IV in Mental Health Peer Work:
“Trauma can refer to an event on its own (e.g. a violent sexual assault), or to the impact on a person.”

Many people who have accessed or are receiving support for their mental health have experienced trauma in their childhood, in their family, in their community, at schools or within other institutions including mental health services. The experience of mental distress itself can also be traumatic, and lead to traumatic losses and other experiences such as homelessness.

Trauma affects the way people relate to others and the way they access a whole range of services. Unless services understand and respond effectively to the impacts of trauma, we risk adding to the effects of trauma and creating further harm.

The objective of trauma-informed care is that service delivery is informed by an understanding of the impact of trauma. Trauma-informed care has been defined in the following way:

“Trauma-informed care is a strengths-based framework that is grounded in an understanding of and responsiveness to the impact of trauma, that emphasises physical, psychological, and emotional safety for both providers and survivors, and that creates opportunities for survivors to rebuild a sense of control and empowerment. (Hopper, Bassuk & Olivet 2010).

What does trauma-informed look like for Mental Health Promotions?

When it comes to events and activities that deal with mental health themes, we can and should conduct ourselves in a way informed by understandings of trauma.

For example:

  • ensure your event or activity does not promote or further stereotypes about mental illness
  • avoid labelling and reducing those with lived experience to a diagnosis
  • have someone present who feels confident supporting people in distress (a trained peer worker is ideal here, over a mental health clinician)
  • provide or encourage content warnings when people are speaking to heavy themes onstage
  • ensure you are not putting people in a position of having to disclose diagnoses or personal experiences when they are not comfortable or sure about doing so
  • think about how you can provide a safe and welcoming environment for the senses.