How wearing a face mask can be triggering for trauma survivors – SBS News

As face masks become increasingly de rigueur for millions of people living in Victoria and NSW, trauma experts are warning that face coverings can be triggering for some.

The Blue Knot Foundation says masks can trigger previous trauma experiences for survivors.

The foundation, which is a centre of excellence for complex trauma, has released advice for trauma survivors on ways to help cope with having to wear a mask or interact with people wearing masks.

With the introduction of mandatory masks in Victoria, and other states increasingly advocating for their use, the foundation says it’s concerned for survivors of complex trauma.

“Many people with a history of trauma may be triggered when asked to wear a mask, or even when they see someone wearing a mask,” Blue Knot Foundation president Cathy Kezelman said on Monday.

“For other survivors it may reignite feelings of not being able to breathe, such as in the recent bushfires. Survivors may have been assaulted by a person wearing a mask and for others, the feeling of being trapped and helpless is all too familiar.

“It can cause feelings of panic and of being suffocated. So too is the discomfort of not being able to see another person’s face to help us read the non-verbal cues so we know what is happening,” Dr Kezelman said.

The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services has already advised it accepts trauma as a valid reason for people to not wear a mask.

The Blue Knot Foundation has developed a list of strategies trauma survivors can adopt if they are required to wear a mask or interact with someone wearing a mask.

It suggests limiting the amount of mask time and increase it gradually, decorate your mask, breathe slower and deeper, play soothing music, meditate, walk, take baths and stay connected to friends.

Readers seeking support with mental health can contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636. More information is available at Beyond Blue.org.au. Embrace Multicultural Mental Health supports people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. 

Metropolitan Melbourne residents are subject to Stage 4 restrictions and must comply with a curfew between the hours of 8pm and 5am. The only reasons for Melbourne residents to leave home during these hours are for exercise, to shop for necessary goods and services, for work, for health care, or to care for a sick or elderly relative.

The full list of restrictions can be found here.

All Victorians must wear a face covering when they leave home, no matter where they live.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus