How Does Trauma Impact Mental Health?
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How Does Trauma Impact Mental Health?



Approximately 50 percent of women, and 60 percent of men have experienced trauma at some point in their lives.


Trauma is common, clearly. However, there’s also a lot of misunderstanding around what trauma is and the effects it can have on people and their mental health.


Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked trauma and mental health-related questions.




What Is Psychological Trauma?

According to the book Psychology of Trauma 101, psychological trauma can be understood as an event, either singular or chronic, that leads to extreme stress and a sense of being overwhelmed. The event should be sudden, extreme, and possibly life-threatening.


This experience (or set of experiences) disrupts a person’s sense of security and causes them to feel helpless. The result is an injury that affects brain function. It impairs a person’s psychological, neurophysiological, and cognitive capabilities.



What Are Examples of Traumatic Events?


Many different types of events can cause psychological trauma. The following are some of the most well-known examples:

  • Abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, etc.)
  • Accidents and injuries
  • Betrayals
  • Breakup of significant relationships
  • Humiliating or disappointing events
  • Natural disasters
  • Near-death experiences
  • Ongoing stress (living in a neighborhood with a high crime rate, being neglected by a parent or partner, being bullied at school or work, etc.)
  • Surgery
  • Violent attacks



If a person went through any of these traumatic events, it could have a long-lasting effect on their psychological and emotional well-being.


It’s important to note, though, that everyone’s response to these kinds of events is different.


As is mentioned in the report Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services, some people don’t show any signs of psychological trauma even after going through serious, life-threatening events. Meanwhile, others will start exhibiting symptoms right away.




Can Childhood Trauma Cause Mental Illness?


People can go through trauma and suffer long-term effects regardless of their age. However, childhood trauma can be particularly problematic.

If a child doesn’t feel safe around their parents, siblings, or other caretakers, they may be more prone to serious physical and mental health challenges. This is especially true if they do not receive help and support early on.

According to Kate Eshleman, PsyD, adults must remember that children see the world differently than they do. What might not be frightening or traumatizing to them may cause severe trauma for a child.

Long-term effects of childhood trauma include:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Stroke
  • Substance use disorders

Of course, experiencing childhood trauma does not agree that a person will develop these issues as an adult.

Their risk increases, though. This is particularly true if they do not receive support and learn how to manage their “fight or flight” response, which may be more sensitive because of the challenges they’ve had.


“Big ‘T’ Trauma” and “Little ‘t’ Trauma”?


Many people divide trauma into two categories: “Big ‘T’ Trauma” and “Little ‘t’ Trauma.”


Think of “Big ‘T’ Trauma” as events that virtually anyone would consider traumatizing. This includes surviving a natural disaster, losing a parent at a young age, being abused by a parent or partner, etc.


“Little ‘t’ Trauma,” on the other hand, refers to events that are traumatizing on an individual level to a particular person but that might not be considered traumatizing to others. An example might be the death of a pet or the end of a long-term relationship.



What Does It Mean if a Trauma Is “Unresolved”? How Do You Know if It Is Resolved or Not?


If a person’s trauma is “unresolved,” that typically means that they have not worked through it with a therapist or sought support for it in some way.


If someone is dealing with unresolved trauma, they may go through a variety of issues that impact their relationships and quality of life, including the following:

These problems might not show up immediately. They can also go on for a long time after the trauma initially occurred.




Can Physical Injuries Cause Mental Trauma?


It’s not just emotional and psychological issues that can contribute to mental trauma. Many people also develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after experiencing a physical injury or accident.


For example, if someone was in a car accident and broke their leg, they may suffer mental challenges even after their leg heals. This could include having a fear of riding in the car or having nightmares about the accident.


Trauma and Mental Health


Trauma-Related Mental Health Problems?


A variety of mental health problems can occur when a person goes through significant trauma. This includes Anxiety Disorders, Social Anxiety Disorder, and Depression. Substance abuse and addiction are also more common in people who have experienced trauma.


Another well-known, long-term condition associated with is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


PTSD affects around 3.5 percent of adults in the U.S. each year. Furthermore, they estimate that roughly one in 11 people are going to be diagnosed at some point in their lifetime.


Some of the most common symptoms of PTSD include the following:

  • Intrusive thoughts (involuntary memories, flashbacks, etc.)
  • Avoidant behavior to try and protect oneself from intrusive thoughts
  • Mood and cognitive changes
  • Increased arousal and reactivity



It is important to work with someone trained in mental health medication if you are experiencing these issues.




What Type of Therapy Helps Heal Trauma?


The good news is that many people can live happy, healthy, fulfilling lives even after going through trauma. Seeking therapy and support can help. There are a few different types of therapy that are effective at healing and resolving trauma, including these:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Therapy that focuses on changing behaviors and teaching coping mechanisms to help people deal with stressors
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): A unique, multi-stage form of therapy that involves talking through a traumatic event.
  • Pharmacotherapy: The use of medications to manage symptoms and minimize the effects of trauma; pharmacotherapy is often coupled with other forms of therapy
  • Psychodynamic Therapy: Therapy that focuses on identifying the phase of trauma in which a person is stuck, then helping them to understand how the trauma has affected them so they can learn how to process it moving forward.








Disclaimer: ALL IN Therapy Clinic aims to improve people’s lives. We do that through providing effective mental health counseling by passionate professionals. We write information for your own education. Our publications are researched, cited, reviewed, and edited by licensed mental health professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of a qualified healthcare provider.



Written and reviewed by

Dr Kyle Zrenchik, PhD, ACS, LMFT

Dr. Kyle Zrenchik is the Co-Founder of ALL IN, the Creator of the Couples Erotic Flow model for treating sexual issues in individuals and couples, Designer of the Deep Dive programs at ALL IN, and is one of the most well-respected couples counselors in the Twin Cities.

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