Trauma and Mental Health: Facts, Symptoms and More

Humans are resilient creatures that can deal with almost anything. When direct experience teaches someone the true definition of trauma and mental health, though, the strength of that resiliency can come into question. No two people respond to traumatic events in the same way. This means something that causes acute stress disorder in one person may have minimal effect on another.

At Mending Fences, we understand the importance of treating the person rather than the precipitating event. Countless variables come into play when dealing with trauma and stress disorders, and effective treatment must account for each of these. If you or a loved one are dealing with the fallout of trauma, contact us today to learn how we can help.

Trauma Definition

The simple definition of trauma is a psychological response to a highly stressful event or series of events. These incidents can range from natural disasters to years of continued abuse or neglect. Emotional and psychological effects of trauma interfere with a person’s ability to function. Of course, such a simple definition lacks the ability to tell the full story.

A person who experiences a stressful event will not necessarily develop trauma. And even among those who do, some will only showcase symptoms associated with trauma disorders for a short period. Trauma simply does not fit easily into any single box or category. This means treatment of related conditions can vary immensely.

The most noticeable constant among those going through trauma is a feeling of helplessness. In some cases, this can cause irrational fears of typical activities that make normal life impossible. Whether someone has just developed symptoms or has been dealing with them for years, reaching out for help is the first step in getting back to normalcy.

What Causes Trauma?

The causes of trauma are wide-ranging and complex. Studies have shown that even witnessing distressing events on television can cause traumatic responses for some people. This means it’s unnecessary for a person to have actual involvement in an event for it to have a direct effect on them. This type of secondary traumatic stress (STS), though, isn’t very common.

The following precipitating events most often lead to trauma reactions:

  • Violent assaults
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Natural disasters
  • Childhood neglect
  • Ongoing stress (e.g., living in a high-crime area)
  • War
  • Bullying
  • Going through multiple traumatic events
  • Sudden death of a loved one
  • Relationship failures
  • Deeply humiliating events

The latter three potentially traumatic events often go overlooked, but many people experience significant stress when they occur. The key takeaway is that there’s no “perfect” candidate for trauma. Our brains all process things in different ways. Health care professionals must look at the effects of these events rather than the causes of the trauma.

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Symptoms of Trauma

Studies typically show the lifetime prevalence rate of trauma to be between 50% and 80%. This high incidence rate becomes more disheartening when looking at the symptoms of trauma. If you or a loved one shows any of these signs following a traumatic event, it’s important to seek help immediately. In many cases, these side effects will only worsen if left untreated.

  • Nightmares and sleep disturbances
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Changes in behavior or personality
  • Feelings of helplessness, shame or fear
  • Feelings of sadness, denial or anger
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Development of substance abuse disorder
  • Suicidal ideation or attempts
  • Withdrawing from others

When stressful events lead to a trauma disorder, these psychological symptoms can interfere with every aspect of a person’s life. Physical symptoms such as digestive problems, headaches, changes in appetite, difficulty concentrating and racing heart are also common. These side effects of trauma will hopefully subside in a few weeks, but this isn’t always the case.

The type of trauma experienced can also have a significant effect on symptoms. Studies have found that the following trauma types create higher risks for suicidal ideation and actions. This risk increases if left untreated, so it’s important that symptoms never go ignored.

  • Interpersonal trauma
  • Childhood trauma
  • Sexual trauma
  • Male non-interpersonal trauma

At Mending Fences, we’ve seen all types of trauma and their effects. We know what stressful events can do to a person, and we’ve seen what can happen with a lack of treatment. Fortunately, we’ve also witnessed people fully take their lives back after undergoing the right therapeutic approach. If you or a loved one needs help, contact us today.

Types of Trauma Disorders

Stressful events can easily lead to trauma disorders, but just like their precipitating events, these mental health conditions also vary significantly. These disorders can differ in severity, time experienced, symptoms and many other areas. Understanding each of these trauma-linked conditions is imperative for effective therapeutic interventions.

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Acute stress disorder
  • Adjustment disorders
  • Reactive attachment disorder
  • Disinhibited social engagement disorder
  • Unspecified and unclassified trauma disorders

Physicians, psychiatrists and researchers are far more knowledgeable about trauma than they once were. As seen by the existence of an unspecified/unclassified class of disorders, though, there are more complexities to trauma than most people can imagine. If you or a loved one has experienced trauma, you shouldn’t concern yourself with fitting into a category.

Your primary concern should a focus on treatment.

Trauma and Mental Health Treatment

The effects of trauma far too often go overlooked unless they result in the most severe outcomes. A person doesn’t have to experience flashbacks or suicide attempts, though, for traumatic events to cause significant disruption in their lives. Regardless of the underlying cause of trauma or its emotional aftermath, anyone dealing with symptoms should seek treatment.

The following approaches have shown extreme efficacy in research and therapeutic use:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Guilt/shame management
  • Exposure therapies
  • Medication-assisted treatment
  • Treating common co-occurring disorders
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Equine therapy

While trauma victims have found help from each of these treatments, not all of them will be effective for everyone. There are also many therapies — not mentioned above — that have shown promise. Everyone experiences, processes and deals with trauma in different ways. The primary motivation should always revolve around the individual needs of each client.

Don’t Battle the Effects of Trauma on Your Own

Everyone responds to psychological trauma in different ways, but no one has to fight this battle on their own. We far too often think that symptoms of trauma indicate weakness or might simply go away in time. Unfortunately, this can cause those who need help the most to not seek treatment. Don’t let these unfounded beliefs stop you from taking your life back from trauma.

At Mending Fences, our staff of certified professionals have seen the effects of trauma in all its forms. They understand how distressing events can affect a person’s ability to cope, and they know how untreated trauma can lead to deteriorating mental health outcomes. Contact us today to learn about the many therapeutic options that can help you regain control.


Journal of Traumatic Stress

U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs

American International Journal of Social Science

American Institute of Stress

European Journal of Psychotraumatology