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Research highlights silent sufferers of post-traumatic stress

By Jane Hampson

PhD graduate Dr Michelle Hilder-Achurch says a healthy early childhood is key to building resilience in adults PhD graduate Dr Michelle Hilder-Achurch says a healthy early childhood is key to building resilience in adults

A Charles Darwin University graduate who spent six years studying post-traumatic stress has identified a healthy early childhood as a key to building resilience in adults.

Dr Michelle Hilder-Achurch recently receive her doctorate at CDU’s mid-year graduation ceremony last month. Her PhD, entitled “The Psychological Correlates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” established baseline research into a previously overlooked group: non-professional helpers.

She studied victims, non-professional and professionals who assisted victims at the scene of traumatic events in her research.

“Initially, I was interested in understanding why some victims and professional responders to traumatic events developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and others did not,”  Dr Hilder-Achurch said. “But I noticed a lack of research on individuals who helped others by happenstance, for example, people who help victims at the scene of a car accident.”

Dr Hilder-Achurch said that up until recently it had not really been recognised that non-professional helpers were being traumatised and might experience trauma differently to victims and professional responders.

“In a clinical sense we need to tailor therapy specific to their needs,” she said.

She said there was a connection between the level of distress experienced during the trauma and PTSD.

“How individuals responded during and after trauma exposure depended on factors such as training and, at a deeper level, early childhood experiences that promoted healthy stress response, emotion regulation systems and personal resources like resilience and appropriate coping,” she said.

According to Dr Hilder-Achurch these were best understood through the prism of Attachment Theory.

“Development of a healthy attachment system ultimately influences the personal resources available to an individual to deal with stress and trauma,” she said.

“It reinforces the importance of early childhood development and healthy families in building resilience and good mental health outcomes across the lifespan.”

For more information about Post-Traumatic Stress visit beyondblue at W: