Understanding Trauma and Mental Illness

People who experience a very stressful event may have trouble returning to a normal state of mind afterwards. In some cases, they develop a mental health disorder related to the experience.


is subjective, but common examples that can trigger a disorder include abuse, neglect, witnessing violence, losing a loved one, or being in a natural disaster. Traumatic disorders cause extreme fear, anxiety, depression, outbursts, flashbacks, and other symptoms that can cause significant impairment. Traumatic disorders and symptoms can be treated with specific types of therapy along with medications.

The following sections focus on some common reactions across the board (emotional, physical, cognitive, behavioral, social and developmental) associated with unique, multiple, and long-lasting traumatic events. These reactions are usually normal responses to trauma, but they can still be nerve-wracking to experience. These responses are not signs of mental illness or indicate a mental disorder. Traumatic stress-related disorders comprise a specific constellation of symptoms and criteria. Most people know that mental and emotional trauma can cause mental health problems.

However, physical damage also contributes to psychological disorders. These three dimensions often coincide, and it can be difficult to determine which component is the direct cause of mental illness. There is often no simple answer, as trauma victims often point to all three. This will likely require learning new coping skills and how to tolerate distressing emotions; some clients may benefit from mindfulness practices, cognitive restructuring, and trauma-specific desensitization approaches, such as exposure therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR; see part 1, chapter 6, for more information on specific therapies for trauma). Experiencing trauma and not being able to cope with it in a healthy way can also predispose someone to suicide.

If you told someone what happened and that person didn't listen to you or help you, this may have prevented you from receiving the support you needed or made you feel alone, which could have worsened the effects of the trauma. In general, the literature shows that criteria or symptoms below the PTSD threshold do not fully explain the persistent and more harmful clinical presentation of complex injuries. Other similar reactions reflect idealization; the traumatic bond is an emotional bond that develops (partly to ensure survival) between aggressors who suffer interpersonal trauma and their victims, and the Stockholm syndrome involves compassion and loyalty to the kidnappers (de Fabrique, Van Hasselt, Vecchi & Romano, 200). I wish there were more awareness about trauma and how it affects a person's thinking process and behavior. Trauma biology is a burgeoning area of research with the promise of more complex and explanatory findings to come. Reexperience can occur through re-enactments (literally “redoing”), whereby trauma survivors repeatedly relive and recreate a past trauma in their current lives.

Only a small percentage of people with a history of trauma show disability and symptoms that meet the criteria for trauma-related stress disorders including mood and anxiety disorders. People with traumatic disorders are also more likely to suffer from other mental illnesses either caused or aggravated by trauma or simply because they have risk factors similar to those of traumatic disorders. Unresolved traumas are sometimes hidden behind emotions that clients can't afford to experience. Trauma is a subjective experience so while an event may be easy for one person to deal with it can be very traumatic for another. Other ways in which people re-experience trauma besides flashbacks are through nightmares and intrusive thoughts about trauma.

The ASD intervention also helps the person develop coping skills that can effectively prevent the recurrence of ASD after subsequent trauma. Explain what trauma is and how it affects your mental health including how you can help yourself what treatments are available and how to overcome barriers to getting the right support. Alcohol and drug use may be for some an effort to manage traumatic stress and specific symptoms of PTSD.

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