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How Trauma Impacts Mental Health

How Trauma Impacts Mental Health

If you have lived through something so scary, dangerous, or stressful that it overwhelmed your ability to cope, you may have developed trauma as a result. Trauma is something each person experiences and responds to differently, depending on their circumstances and the specifics of the traumatic event. At Palms Behavioral Health in Harlingen, Texas, we work with trauma survivors and their support systems every day.

Commonly Traumatic Events

Because trauma is different for every person, what one person experiences as a traumatic event may be felt as only mildly upsetting by another. For example, one child may experience their parents’ divorce as intensely traumatic due to losses that resulted from it, while another sees their parents’ divorce as neutral because it meant they witnessed less fighting between their parents. Though trauma can form after many different types of events, some experiences are highly likely to lead to trauma and trauma disorders. These include:

  • Natural disasters
    • Hurricanes
    • Tornadoes
    • Earthquakes
    • Floods
  • Acts of violence
    • Mass shootings
    • Terror attacks
    • Being verbally, sexually, or physically assaulted
    • Witnessing or experiencing domestic violence
    • Participating in combat
  • Sudden losses
    • Placement in foster care
    • Unexpected deaths of loved ones
    • Disabling accidents 
    • Receiving a life-threatening medical diagnosis

Reacting to Trauma

If a person has been traumatized by an event, it may be apparent right away or it could take weeks, months, or years for indications to appear. The most common reactions to trauma are:

  • Difficult feelings like sadness, anxiety, and anger
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Thinking continuously about the event

In most cases, these symptoms will lessen over time, especially if the person has a strong support system and good coping skills.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Sometimes, a person is not able to put the traumatic experience behind them, and this may lead to a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Symptoms of PTSD may include:

  • Intrusive memories
    • Repeated, distressing memories of the event
    • Flashbacks
    • Nightmares
    • Severe reactions to things that remind the person of the event
  • Avoidance
    • Trying not to think or talk about what happened
    • Staying away from people, places, or activities that remind the person of the event
  • Negative mental changes
    • Thinking negative thoughts about themselves or the rest of the world
    • Feelings of hopelessness
    • Lack of emotion
    • Detachment from loved ones
    • Memory issues in general and/or in relation to the traumatic event
  • Negative reactions
    • Being frightened easily
    • Always expecting something bad to happen
    • Self-destructive behaviors like substance use and reckless driving
    • Sleep disturbances
    • Inability to focus
    • Irritability, anger, or aggression

Due to their stage of development, small children may have different reactions to trauma than older children and adults. They may react by:

  • Re-enacting some or all of the traumatic event through play
  • Having frightening dreams that may or may not center on the event

Adverse Childhood Experiences

Children who experience difficult events are particularly likely to struggle with long-term issues as a result of their inability to protect themselves and their less-developed coping skills. The traumas experienced in childhood are commonly referred to as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). ACEs have been connected to several negative outcomes later in life, including increased risk for:

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Substance use disorder
  • Poor academic achievement
  • Early death

The more ACEs a child experiences, the higher their chances of having these and other undesired outcomes.

Mental Health Impact Of Trauma

Trauma can have an impact on every aspect of a person’s life and increase their risk for developing other behavioral health conditions, such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Substance use disorder (SUD)
  • Eating disorders
  • Suicidal ideation

The severity of a person’s PTSD symptoms may vary in intensity. It may seem like they are showing improvement, but then stress or reminders of their trauma will lead to increased symptoms.

Preventing Long-Term Issues

While it is not always possible to prevent yourself from experiencing any traumatic events, there are ways to reduce the risk that you will develop PTSD as a result of your experiences:

  • Utilizing your faith community, if this is an important part of your life
  • Getting strong support from family and friends
  • Going to therapy
  • Connecting with other trauma survivors

Trauma-Informed Care

Many different types of businesses have begun to operate under the assumption that everyone has experienced something traumatic and that modifying how businesses operate can reduce distress and re-traumatization. This is called trauma-informed care.

At Palms Behavioral Health, we take a trauma-informed, evidence-based approach to treating all of our patients by helping them to feel safe, supported, empowered, and informed. We want our patients and their loved ones to know that this is a place where they can get the help they need and deserve.

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