Post-trauma coping in the context of significant adversity: A qualitative study of young people living in an urban township in South Africa

Rachel M. Hiller*, Sarah L. Halligan, Mark Tomlinson, Jackie Stewart, Sarah Skeen, Hope Christie

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Objective Compared with knowledge of the post-trauma needs of young people living in developed countries, little is known about the needs of those in low-middle-income countries. Such information is crucial, particularly as young people in these environments can be at increased risk of experiencing trauma, coupled with less available resources for formal support. The aim of this study was to explore post-trauma coping and support-seeking of young people living in a high-adversity settlement in South Africa. 

Design Semistructured qualitative interviews analysed using thematic analysis. 

Setting An urban settlement (a township') in Cape Town, South Africa. 

Participants 25 young people, aged 13-17 years, who had experienced trauma. Events included serious car accidents, hearing of a friend's violent death, and rape, and all reported having experienced multiple traumatic events. All participants identified as black South African and spoke Xhosa as their first language. 

Results Social support was considered key to coping after trauma, although the focus of the support differed depending on the source. Parents would most commonly provide practical support, particularly around safety. Peers often provided an avenue to discuss the event and young person's emotional well-being more openly. Outside of social support another key theme was that there were numerous community-level barriers to participants receiving support following trauma. Many young people continued to be exposed to the perpetrator of the event, while there was also the realistic concern around future traumas and safety, community stigma and a perceived lack of justice. 

Conclusion This study provides insight into how young people cope and seek support following trauma when they are living in a context of significant adversity and risk. Overall, most young people identified helpful sources of support and thought talking about the event was a useful strategy, but concerns around safety and trust could impede this process.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere016560
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 6 Oct 2017

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • adolescents
  • child trauma
  • coping
  • low-middle income country
  • support


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