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Complex trauma must be prioritised

The federal government must ensure that a complex trauma strategy is a “pillar” of the nation’s mental health policy moving forward, says Blue Knot Foundation.

Speaking ahead of Mental Health Week (6-12 October) and the 10th anniversary of Blue Knot Day (Monday, 28 October), the foundation – which is Australia’s National Centre of Excellence for Complex Trauma – said Australia must respond to the public health crisis of complex trauma, with more than one in four adult Australians experiencing the cumulative impacts of complex trauma.

“Over 5 million adults in this country have experiences of complex trauma, which is repeated ongoing interpersonal trauma and abuse, often from childhood, as an adult, or both,” Blue Knot Foundation president Dr Cathy Kezelman said.

“With two-thirds of people presenting to public and private mental health services having experienced sexual and physical abuse, complex trauma must be identified, acknowledged and appropriately addressed.”

“Research establishes that it can significantly affect a person’s mental health and wellbeing, with survivors experiencing high rates of anxiety and depression and other mental health issues.”

Unless we properly address complex trauma now, Dr Kezelman continued, Australia will be having this same conversation in 10 years’ time and then again in another 10 years.

“We need to respond to this growing devastating public mental health issue and its human cost on individuals, families, communities and across generations,” she said.

Complex trauma includes child sexual, physical and emotional abuse; neglect; growing up with domestic violence; and growing up with a parent or carer who has their own unresolved trauma, such as with a mental illness or an addiction, the foundation said in a statement.

In adulthood, it can occur as a result of domestic and family violence and refugee and war trauma, it added.

“Research shows that it is possible to heal from even severe early trauma, and that when parents have worked through their trauma, their children do better. However, to find a path to recovery, people need the right support and to embrace a sense of hope and optimism on their journey to recovery and building resilience,” Dr Kezelman said.

“We hope to bring much needed attention to this important issue during Mental Health Week, help build the capacity of practitioners to respond, and call on the government to come to the table and prioritise complex trauma as part of a national mental health strategy.”