How Trauma Can Compromise Your Mental Health
We tend to think of trauma as something big: physical or sexual assault, combat, and domestic violence might top the list. And it’s true that these events are intensely traumatic and can have repercussions on mental and physical health far into the future. But trauma can also result from less obvious events or situations, and how we experience an event will vary based on our personality, environment, resources, and more.
The American Psychological Foundation (APA) defines trauma as, “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster.” Other terrible events, both physical and emotional, that can cause trauma include:
- Emotional or physical abuse
- Serious surgical procedure
- Witnessing violence at home, at school, or in the community
- Death of a family member or close friend, especially when the death is unexpected
For children, neglect, unexplained separation from a parent or sibling, difficult foster care experiences, and more can also cause trauma. Trauma can be separated into three categories: acute (resulting from a single stressful or dangerous event); chronic (resulting from repeated or prolonged exposure to a stressful event); and complex (resulting from exposure to multiple traumatic events). In short, any situation or event that caused or continues to cause an intensely stressful emotional reaction can be defined as traumatic.
What are the Effects of Trauma?
As stated earlier, people experience traumatic events differently. Some people – probably those who are in stable mental health at the time of the event and who have a lot of good resources to help them process the event – are able to work through the stress and move on to live healthy, happy lives. Others aren’t so fortunate. For many people, the trauma they experience stays with them, interfering with their ability to move forward.
When the intense stress of trauma lasts long-term or continues to recur periodically, it has detrimental effects on physical and mental health. Long-term stress from trauma can result in chronic fatigue, sleep disorders, persistent fear and anxiety, and depression. It can also lead to the avoidance of anything that could be associated with the trauma, including emotions, sensations, and activities. Stress can lead to physical symptoms of high blood pressure, digestive issues, muscle aches, a weakened immune system, and more.
Types of Trauma Disorders
Trauma leads to mental health disorders when the person is unable to effectively process it. Perhaps the most well-known trauma disorder is PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). PTSD is often associated with military or combat trauma but can apply to other types of trauma as well. Symptoms include intense stress and disturbing thoughts and feelings that last long after the traumatic event has ended.
Other types of trauma disorders include:
- Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) – RAD occurs in children who have experienced trauma from neglect or insufficient care; symptoms include difficulty forming emotional attachments, inability to seek comfort, and minimal emotional responsiveness
- Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder – this disorder also affects children who were neglected or poorly cared for and results in inappropriate, overly familiar behavior with adults and strangers
- Acute Stress Disorder – like PTSD but less severe and lasts only three days to one month following the traumatic event
- Adjustment Disorder – occurs in children and adults who develop emotional or behavioral symptoms in response to a major change or stress (like going to college or getting laid off from work); symptoms appear within three months of the event and last no longer than six months
Signs of Trauma Disorder
Like other mental health disorders, trauma becomes an issue that needs treatment when it begins to interfere with a person’s life to the point that it compromises their health, work, relationships, and overall happiness.
If you or a loved one have experienced a traumatic event (or if you see the following signs in a loved one even without having knowledge of a traumatic event) and are experiencing the following symptoms, consider seeking professional help:
- Excessive worry, fear, or sadness
- Excessive crying
- Difficulty thinking clearly
- Difficulty sleeping; having nightmares
- Feelings of anger/irritability
- Frightening thoughts or flashbacks, reliving the experience
- Strong desire to avoid places, people, or sensations because they bring back disturbing memories
- Isolation from family and friends
Treatment for Trauma Disorders
If you are experiencing continuing stress from a traumatic event, know that you are not alone. Trauma does not have to last forever, and treatment can connect you with others who are healing and help you find your own healing. Trauma disorder is typically treated with a combination of meditation, psychotherapy, and holistic therapies. Miramont Behavioral Health, in MIddleton, WI, can help you work through your trauma and take back control of your health and well-being. Contact us today for a free consultation.