- What Is Trauma And How Does It Affect Mental Health?
- The Different Types Of Traumas
- Examples Of Potential Traumatic Events And Experiences
- How Does Trauma Effect Physical Health?
- What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
- The Stigmatization Of Trauma
- Types Of Stigmas
- Trauma Survivors Day
- The Importance Of Healing And Resilience
- Treatments and Resources
- Final Thought
As May is known as Mental Health Month, it is also important to highlight Trauma Survivors Day which is today May 18th. For such a long time, the issues of trauma have often been misunderstood and stigmatized. With more and more advocation towards mental health awareness becoming a norm, our general understanding of trauma has begun to improve. Yet, this topic is still misunderstood by many. Continue reading further to understand the impact of trauma.
WHAT IS TRAUMA AND HOW DOES IT AFFECT MENTAL HEALTH?
Trauma is defined as the experiencing or witnessing of events in which there is actual or threatened death, serious injury, or violence. Trauma occurs when frightening events or situations overwhelm a child’s or adult’s ability to cope or deal with what has happened. Just a few examples of trauma include natural and human-made disasters—such as hurricanes and school shootings—serious motor vehicle accidents, physical or sexual abuse, and domestic violence. Some trauma experts extend the definition to include any stressful events that significantly impair a person’s daily functioning—for example, at work or in personal relationships.
The terms “traumatic events” and “traumatic experiences” refer to what happened—for example, the hurricane or the violence. It uses the term “effects” of traumatic events and experiences to refer to any resulting thoughts, feelings, behaviors, or changes in relationships. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) refers to traumatic experiences and events, and the effects of these experiences and events, as “The Three E’s of Trauma: Events, Experiences, and Effects”.
THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF TRAUMAS
There are several types of traumas which include:
- Acute trauma: This results from a single stressful or dangerous event.
- Chronic trauma: Resulting from repeated and prolonged exposure to highly stressful events. Examples include cases of child abuse, bullying, or domestic violence.
- Complex trauma: This results from exposure to multiple traumatic events
- Collective Intergenerational Trauma: This trauma is characterized by psychological or emotional difficulties which can affect different communities, cultural groups, and generations. Adaptive coping patterns can be passed intergenerationally.
- Secondary trauma: A person develops trauma symptoms from close contact with someone who has experienced a traumatic event.
EXAMPLES OF POTENTIAL TRAUMATIC EVENTS AND EXPERIENCES
Traumatic events may be experienced or witnessed. They may be sudden and brief or long-lasting. Here are several examples of events that may lead to traumatic effects:
- Diagnosis of severe illness or medical condition
- Chronic medical or mental health conditions, as well as some highly invasive medical procedures
- Prolonged separation from family members
- Death of a parent or loved one
- Neglect during childhood
- Physical and sexual abuse
- Alcohol or substance use disorders
- Chronic marital or partner discord
- Domestic violence
- Systemic discrimination, racism, oppression, and genocide
- Unemployment or underemployment
- Community violence
- War-related violence
- Displacement and other refugee experiences
- Environmental disasters, such as pandemics, hurricanes, wildfires, and earthquakes
- Human-made disasters, such as school shootings, terrorist attacks, and war
HOW DOES TRAUMA AFFECT PHYSICAL HEALTH?
Along with an emotional reaction, people who deal with trauma can experience different physical symptoms such as:
- Digestive symptoms
- Racing heart
- Feeling jumpy
Sometimes, a person will also experience hyperarousal, or when someone feels as though they are in a constant state of alertness. This may make it difficult to sleep. Individuals may also go on to develop other mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, stress and substance abuse problems.
WHAT IS POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (PTSD)?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychological disorder that develops in response to a traumatic event. The body responds to trauma by releasing adrenaline, the stress hormone that triggers “fight or flight” mode. That adrenaline stimulates the amygdala, the part of the brain that plays a significant role in emotions, behavior, and fear processing. This system overreacts with out-of-proportion fear responses to ordinary situations. While the symptoms of traumatic stress and PTSD look similar immediately following the event, they progress differently. With PTSD, your mind stays in a state of psychological shock – instead of feeling a bit better each day, your symptoms stick with you and interfere with your normal functioning.
There are three main types of symptoms:
- Re-experiencing the trauma through intrusive flashbacks and/or nightmares.
- Emotional numbness and avoidance of places, people, and activities that remind you of the trauma.
- Heightened arousal – trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating, feeling jumpy, irritability.
For most people, symptoms will start immediately following a traumatic event, but some may not develop systems until weeks, months, or even years after. It’s important to be aware of the signs so that if you find yourself struggling later, you can get help. If you’re experiencing some of these symptoms now, take a PTSD screen.
THE STIGMATIZATION OF TRAUMA
The stigma around mental illness, and traumas like PTSD in particular, is strong. Stereotypes that depict people with PTSD as dangerous, unpredictable, incompetent, or to blame for their illness can promote stigma. People with PTSD may fear embarrassment or shame, too, and if they seek help, they may fear they’ll be hospitalized. To make matters worse, these misconceptions are often veiled in widespread acceptance by cultures and individuals. Some common challenges that many survivors struggle with after traumatic experiences are lowered self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness. When survivors are flooded by messages that further attack them, blame them, and take their control, it can lead to increased feelings of helplessness, confusion, and worthlessness. These messages quickly can become internalized and become a part of the survivor’s self-narrative.
As a result, this can easily isolate survivors in feeling that they are alone in their struggles. This is why it is important that they are not further traumatized by the negative attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of those around them. One of the best tools we have in eliminating these stigmas of trauma is awareness. As the misconceptions are named for what they are, they can then be overtly challenged within individuals, systems, and cultures, and survivors can be better supported (by both themselves and others).
TYPES OF STIGMAS
Some examples of the types of stigmas regarding mental health conditions and trauma include:
- Public Stigma: The general public endorses stereotypes and discriminates against the person with a mental illness.
- Self-Stigma: The person with a mental illness internalizes the beliefs of others.
- Label Avoidance: If the person with a mental illness perceives social stigma, they will avoid being labeled by not seeking treatment.
- Structural Stigma: For example, this includes the social and institutional policies and practices that can affect healthcare coverage and legal matters.
TRAUMA SURVIVORS DAY
As a reminder, National Trauma Survivors Day is today Wednesday, May 18th! In 1988, Ronald Reagan recognized the need for trauma awareness and established May as the month for us to dedicate our time and resources to increasing education and prevention activities. This celebration seeks to draw inspiration from and provide support to survivors of traumatic experiences and their caregivers, opening the road to their recovery from trauma. During this event, we encourage all those who support these patients to write them a note of inspiration to aid in the recovery process.
THE IMPORTANCE OF HEALING AND RESILIENCE
When dealing with trauma, it is important to focus on the healing and resilience process. The healing process repairs disruptions in our health and well-being. It leads to recovering our capabilities and functions. Along the way, we can grow in ways that build new strengths. Healing from a traumatic event does not mean we forget the event or erase its effects. Instead, the event and its effects can, over time, be remembered, understood, and felt in new ways. Remembering, understanding, and feeling in new ways can reduce the distress that has been caused. This process can uncover and expand personal strengths that we otherwise might never have recognized.
TREATMENTS & RESOURCES
There are a variety of different trauma therapy treatment options that can help deal with trauma and PTSD. Some have been used for decades while others have only been used in recent years. These therapies may not be for everyone. However, they have proven to be effective in most patients when dealing with traumatic events.
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy
- Cognitive Processing Therapy
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy
- Group Therapy
- Brainspotting Therapy
While many people will seek out help to process their trauma, many people will not. There is nothing wrong with reaching out for help. If you are ready to make a change and get help, make sure to make an appointment with a therapist you feel most comfortable with. Besides seeking therapy, it is important to emphasize self-care. Practicing self-care can help individuals to cope with the emotional, psychological, and physical symptoms of trauma. Examples of self-care for trauma include exercise, mindfulness, connection with others, and a balanced lifestyle.
Above all else, don’t forget to know that it is never too late to seek help nor do you have to deal with the inner challenges of coping alone. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours per day at 800-273-8255. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 800-273-8255.
Most people will experience a traumatic event at some point in their lives. Some may experience symptoms of shock and distress, and most will recover within a short period. However, for those of you who experience persistent or severe symptoms of trauma, you should seek help from a mental health professional. It is especially important to seek help if the trauma symptoms interfere with daily functioning or relationships with others. Have you ever had to deal with certain traumas? How would you cope? Did you find this article helpful? Please feel free to share your comments down below!