The reality is not always as clear cut as social folly dictates
The phrase ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ was printed in an English Newspaper, The Morecambe Guardian as far back as 1931. In 1854 it was printed in the Muncie Evening Press in it’s original, longer form ‘A problem shared is a problem halved. A joy shared is a joy doubled.’
Once coined as an expression, it has circuited the world. It is a saying that prompts discussion about worries, in the hope that sharing will alleviate the burden. It is an idiom that people hear from their friends, colleagues, therapists and anyone else who can see that there is a struggle going on within the mind. Does this proverb cover all dilemmas? What about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
There are an estimated two thirds of children who have experienced trauma by the age of 16, making PTSD, a mainstream topic of conversation within children’s services.
As trauma has been linked to both short- and long-term symptoms, it can be a cause of anger and attention difficulties, sadness, sleep problems and somatic complaints. Research has also concluded that adults who have experienced trauma in their childhood, are at higher risk of asthma, heart disease, depression, diabetes and stroke. According to one survey of the general population in England, three in one hundred adults screen positive for PTSD. With this information it is understandable that professionals want to intervene.
Dr Nadine Burke Harris, an expert in trauma, has made it her mission to eliminate the toxic stress that leads to this condition within one generation. Using questionnaires in GP surgeries, 14000 patients, on routine visits, have participated in the completion of the forms. These surveys have been used to capture experiences that have been identified as toxic stress triggers so that General practitioners are aware of trauma manifesting physically. Questions that the partakers are asked include parental mental health and prescription or street drug usage as well as detailed queries about abuse in all forms.
This widespread screening for Adverse Childhood Experiences has been met with concern by many professionals who query safety and reliability. Apprehensions include the triggering of symptoms, the capacity of doctors to give their patients the attention that they deserve and whether the GP is trained in mental health. Further alarms raised involve the potential triggering of repressed memories, within an emotionally unsafe setting.
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By Janine White: Culture Editor
Several professionals and authors of books that are focussed on childhood traumas, consider the discussion of adverse experiences without a trained therapist present, can put the patient in a potentially dangerous situation of reliving their experience alone. These experts state that a relationship with the patient needs to be developed so that the client is aware that they will be supported and safe. If this relationship is absent, then there is a higher possibility of insensitive responses, with or without intention.
The lack of a reaffirming and delicate response may cause more damage, potentially forcing them to isolate their feelings further and theoretically enter psychological lock down. These insensitivities can be, yet are not limited to verbal or non-verbal responses, body language, eye contact and physical distance. Children have reported that they need to disclose trauma to loving ears, such as parents and teachers rather than professionals as they know that they are safe and will be comforted. Therefore, it could be proclaimed that a problem shared is a problem halved; in the right circumstances. If the screening were to take place once a bond had been created, is it compatible within the current climate?
Within England alone, there was a 14% increase in people receiving talking therapies between 2000 and 2014 yet it is estimated that 75% of patients with mental health needs may not be able to access this treatment. If this is correct what will happen to the many patients who screen positive?
According to NHS England there were 1.4 million referrals to talking therapies during 2017 for depression and anxiety. Considering other disorders like PTSD would significantly increase numbers. Of these referrals only 965000 started treatment and mental health services are struggling to manage these needs. If one in three of the almost 56 million people in England scored positive for PTSD, therapeutic provision would need to be provided for over 18 million people. Should screening be taking place prior to provision being created? Is sharing the problem going to halve it, or bring it to the service for patients to manage without help?
In a culture where mental health is high on the agenda and the sharing of deep feelings is encouraged, another phrase may be more apt to allow England and the sufferers to manage trauma safely. As the American Writer, Elizabeth George states ‘big changes start with small steps.’