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New resource published to help public services become trauma-informed to support women’s mental health

24 April 2019

Public services can help women more effectively by understanding the impact of trauma on their lives and by creating an environment that enables healing from trauma, according to a new resource published today by Centre for Mental Health and the Mental Health Foundation.

Engaging with complexity, by Jo Wilton and Alec Williams, offers public services a brief guide to the principles of trauma-informed care and how to put them into practice. It explains why public services need to be trauma-informed and summarises the key elements.

Engaging with complexity was commissioned by the VCSE Health and Wellbeing Alliance, a partnership between the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and Public Health England. It builds on the 2018 Women’s Mental Health Taskforce report, which recommended the wider use of trauma-informed care.

Engaging with complexity was produced by Centre for Mental Health and the Mental Health Foundation in collaboration with the Association of Mental Health Providers, the National LGB&T Partnership and the Race Equality Foundation. The resource is informed by a review of literature and consultations involving women with expertise by experience and professionals with an interest in trauma-informed approaches.

Engaging with complexity shows that trauma is a common experience but that it disproportionately affects marginalised groups of people. Women’s experiences of trauma are often different to men’s, but everyone’s individual experience is unique. Trauma-informed care can respond to this by listening to and valuing women’s stories, by creating safe spaces to talk, by showing an understanding of the traumas women have experienced, and by responding to their needs without creating new traumas.

Engaging with complexity finds that there are barriers to public services becoming trauma-informed. These include resistance both to acknowledging the importance of trauma and to changing long-established practices, as well as scarce resources and low morale. But it finds that adopting the principles of trauma-informed care can make services more effective in responding to the needs of women who have experienced trauma.

Centre for Mental Health chief executive Sarah Hughes said:

Trauma is inseparably bound up with systems of power and oppression. For women who have experienced trauma in their lives, public services can unwittingly make things worse if they create situations that bring back the trauma or make them feel unsafe. Engaging with complexity will help public services to understand the principles of being trauma-informed and start to implement them in practice. 

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Mark Rowland said: Engaging with complexity provides an essential framework for public sector services wanting to work more sensitively and effectively with women who have experienced trauma. Best practice can reduce and prevent the longer-term harms linked to such trauma, and begins when a service fully engages with complexity, consistently listening, understanding and responding to each woman as an individual person.

Download the report here

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