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Soraya Matthews, MSc, NUI Galway, Psychology Matters Day.
Exposure to traumatic experiences or material can often have a negative impact on a person's health. It can be common for us to only consider people who have experienced trauma first hand as experiencing negative health effects, both physically and mentally. However, this experience can also occur when a person experiences traumatic material secondarily.
Secondary traumatic stress can develop when a person is exposed to trauma through hearing about the first-hand trauma experiences of others. This has become common in jobs where employees are exposed to clients/patients who have suffered from trauma (e.g. domestic violence specialists, mental health professionals, or nurses).
Its symptoms can mimic those of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) if left unchecked. Furthermore, this can often be reflected in their health status (e.g. negatively impacted).
Research has suggested that individuals who have been exposed to trauma were 2.7 times more likely to have a longstanding negative health problem, such as fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and chronic fatigue syndrome. For this reason, it is important to examine the potential psychological and organisational factors that can influence, or protect against, the development of health problems and secondary traumatic stress in employees who experience high volumes of traumatic material.