Trauma and mental health

The fire at Grenfell Tower left many people displaced and many more people traumatised. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common response to a major incident like a fire. The NHS Grenfell Tower Fire Response Group hasn’t only been making sure services and information that people need right now is available; the group has also been planning for the future and designing a mix of support in partnership with the community itself.

After experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event like a fire, a lot of people will feel anxious and have difficulty processing the memories without severe distress. Sometimes that can become an anxiety disorder called Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is not simply about being upset, although people who are experiencing the symptoms of PTSD may well feel a mix of overwhelming or confusing emotions as well, including grief, anxiety, guilt or anger.

The symptoms may not appear right away, although typically the begin after around six weeks. The main signs that someone may benefit from help for PTSD are:

Flashbacks and nightmares

Flashbacks and nightmares can be stronger than a typical memory. A person experiencing a flashback may feel that they are reliving the traumatic event in real-time, and they may experience the sensations they felt at the time, such as sounds and smells, as if they are in the present.

Avoidance and numbing

Reliving a traumatic event is distressing for many people, so it is common to develop avoidance or distraction habits. Some people avoid any ‘triggers’ that they associate with the trauma, and do not talk about what happened, or appear to numb themselves emotionally.

Being ‘on guard’

Some people stay alert all the time, as if they were looking out for danger, and can’t relax. They may feel anxious, jumpy, irritable, and be unable to sleep. This is called ‘hyper-vigilance’.


PTSD is not usually permanent and can be treated with trauma-focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

Children and young people can also experience trauma. Find out more about child and adolescent mental health here.

Do you experience any of the symptoms above? Fill in an NHS survey online to help you decide if you might benefit from a health and wellbeing service.

Read more about PTSD here.