Trauma and World Mental Health Day

I blog for World Mental Health Day
When Psych Central reached out and asked me if I would take part in the first blog party devoted to World Mental Health Day, how could I say no? I am a long time fan and admirer of all Dr. John Grohol and Psych Central do to educate and provide quality mental health information. Check them out if you have not already!

In honor of World Mental Health Day I thought I’d reprise an earlier post on a topic I care very much about: the impact of trauma on mental health. If you have been reading this blog at all, I am sure you are aware that I focus a great deal on this topic. In fact, I consider it a mission,  educating others about the ways trauma is even broader than commonly understood and is also a component underlying many psychological diagnoses.

Trauma, little t and big T, complex and simple, has lasting effects and is still not well enough understood. Awareness is so crucial to combat the stigma that still exists, about mental health issues in general and trauma specifically. The pervasiveness of childhood trauma and its long lasting impact is a big secret and survivors who try to talk about their experiences are often shamed, blamed and stigmatized.

For my contribution to the blog party, I decided to share some highlights from my past blog posts, a sort of quick reference guide to understanding how trauma impacts mental health.

What is trauma and what is its impact?

Psychological trauma is the unique individual experience of an event or enduring conditions in which:
The individual’s ability to integrate his/her emotional experience is overwhelmed or the individual experiences (subjectively) a threat to life, bodily integrity, or sanity. (Pearlman & Saakvitne, 1995, p. 60)

Quoting myself: The important part of this definition in my practice is the emphasis on “unique individual experience”.  You get to define which experiences are traumatic for you, whether or not it would impact others in the same manner.  It’s not the objective facts that determine whether an event is traumatic,  but your own emotional experienceof the event.

The following are examples of how childhood abuse might impact you as an adult:

  • Relationship Problems–difficulty with communication, trouble setting healthy boundaries, repeating unhealthy patterns in choices of partners and difficulty with intimacy.
  • Social Alienation–feeling different from others, not accepted, stigmatized, social phobia.
  • Low Self-Esteem–self-doubt, self-blame, shame, feeling like an imposter.
  • Difficulty with Feelings–trouble in recognizing, managing and appropriately expressing feelings, depression, panic attacks, anxiety
  • Body issues–disconnection/dissociation from body, distorted body image, coping mechanisms that can harm the body (self-injury, eating disorders, abuse of alcohol and drugs), see sexual problems.
  • Sexual Problems–sexual inhibition or compulsive sexual behavior, flashbacks to abusive experiences during sexual contact, inability to achieve orgasm, pain or numbing during intimacy.
  • Physical problems– migraines, chronic pain, arthritis, chronic fatigue and irritable bowel syndrome
  • Other Symptoms of Trauma–feelings of fear, agitation, amnesia for events or parts of your life, numbing of bodily areas, nightmares, dissociation.

Trauma can impact your physical health:

Trauma plays a role in many mental health disorders:

Trauma impacts your relationships:

And of course, trauma affects the development of your sense of self:

What can you do to combat trauma-related stigma?

  • Stop blaming the victim.  Speak up as an ally when you hear victim blaming conversations.  Those who have been abused and need to get help for it are not the problem. Abuse and the systems that allow it to continue are.
  • Understand that avoidance, denial, not talking about childhood trauma and abuse does not make it better. If a survivor could just think it away, they would have long ago.
  • Realize that nature vs. nurture is a false dichotomy. Our environment (how we are nurtured) effects our brain chemistry. “Chemical imbalances” as the cause of psychological problems rarely exist in a vacuum.

The good news about trauma is that it can be treated! Trauma-informed therapy is available and effective in addressing all the types of trauma aftermath outlined above. You can find a therapist who is a good fit for you. Some good places to look for referrals includeSidran Institute and the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation.

Kathleen Young, Psy.D.

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12 Responses to Trauma and World Mental Health Day

  1. Pingback: World Mental Health Day Blog Party, October 10, 2011 | World Mental Health Day

  2. Nice post about trauma. And thanks for including info abt the waste of time in the nature v nurture dichotomy

  3. Kristin says:

    I just started with (yet another) new therapist and this time am having more success. She utilizes Peter A. Levine’s method of Somatic Therapy – learning the body’s responses and working with those, rather than the details of the trauma (which nearly always re-traumatizes the patient). I am amazed how simple this is and how quickly I am learning to notice my own responses without judgement. In fact, doing so actually reduces them! “Give your body permission to feel (what ever sensation i just noted, like tense legs, fluttering heart, tight stomach). Just watch what happens, don’t try to change it”, said my new therapist. Woah! it relaxes! “Yes. You just saved yourself 12 months of therapy.” That was 2 weeks ago – I didn’t believe her. But now I am already noticing these things during my panic attacks, and working through them on my own. This after 12 YEARS of therapy…. Unbelievable. Tip to the wise – If you haven’t already learned Peter Levine’s method (can be found on the net), it is time to. Help your patients/ clients by gaining access to this wonderful tool.

  4. Kerro says:

    Great post as always – thanks Dr K🙂

  5. Pingback: DVAM and World Mental Health Day | Creating Your Beyond, LLC

  6. Alarik Wood says:

    I needed to read this blog. In January of this year, I had an on the job accident, where I fell pretty hard, hitting my head, breaking my shoulder, broke my hip and had 3 pins installed. I never got a CT scan for my head, and have been complaining about it, and other things for months. Everyone from work comp doctors, employer, physical therapist – health insurance taken away from me by my employer, while on work comp, and while still legally considered an employee while I recover(go figure), are pretty slanderous and not helpful. I would highly reccomend mental therapy for anyone who goes through a traumatic event. This should have been offered to me from day one. Im a very strong person, and this chronic pain and anxiety has put me on my back. My girlfriend and I had to finally take matters in our own hands, get an attorney involved, schedule mental health appointments for me, request new doctors, etc., all because no one would believe that a guy my size, and with my past character and work ethic, can be experiencing chronic pain and a pretty good case of anxiety….so bad I cry often uncontrollably, and Im not sad or depressed. This stuff inside me is waaaaaay more powerful than me. I am completely blown away by the power of the human mind through an event like I am going through……when the mind wants to take over, it TAKES OVER!!!! I have a completely new respect for mental health, its therapists, and for the “victims” of on the job injuries, who get zero respect or consideration from work comp “doctors”(I called them paid hitmen), or anyone, unless they are a trained therapis, compassionate, and or they have experienced an accident like the one I experienced, and am still experiencing with my body and mind. Thank you for your blog, and the useful information contained within.

    • Anonymous says:

      Alarik you are a strong person and man. I know from personal experience that you put forth 110%. Like you mentioned, this is bigger than you are; and cannot be resolved without therapy. I pray you get the help you need. You are so deserving of all the best and I do believe your hard work will pay off. Best wishes, Bunny

  7. I’m late commenting, but I just wanted to say that this post was very meaningful to me and gave me a lot of head-knowledge that I didn’t know about this topic. Thanks for sharing!

  8. wtrubv says:

    It’s hard to find well-informed people about this subject, however, you seem like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks

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