A strong link exists between unresolved trauma and mental illness. Researchers have been studying this relationship for many years in order to understand why so many people with mental illness also have past traumas. As we acquire more knowledge and understanding of this relationship, we are able to help people resolve past trauma and treat underlying mental health issues.

La Ventana is a mental health treatment facility that specializes in trauma treatment. Many of the clients we work with have suffered trauma at some point in their lives. With our individualized treatment programs and full continuum of care, we have the resources to deliver advanced care in a safe and supportive setting.

Below we share some information that we feel is important to know about the relationship between trauma and mental illness.

Trauma is Not Rare, but Everyone Handles it Differently

A person experiences trauma when they fear for their safety, experience intense pain or witness a tragic event. How people respond to this trauma varies depending on their personality, resiliency, coping skills and other factors, as well as the type of trauma experienced. For example, some trauma is repeated, such as physical abuse or sexual assault. Other trauma only happens once but has long-lasting consequences, such as surviving a natural disaster or a brutal attack.

Going through trauma is not uncommon. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women experience at least one trauma in their lifetimes. Women are more likely to suffer sexual assault and domestic violence, while men are more likley to go through combat, disaster or physical assault.

If the trauma is not dealt with, the person may suffer long-term effects, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD affects 7-8 percent of the population at some point in their lives, which is a small portion compared to those who have experienced trauma. Some people are more at risk for developing PTSD based on age, gender, a history of mental illness or drug addiction and other personal factors.

Common Types of Trauma Disorders

People are most familiar with PTSD, but there are many forms of trauma. When seeking care at La Ventana, we will diagnose the type of trauma you are experiencing for the most individualized care possible.

Here is a breakdown of the most common trauma disorders:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a disorder that develops after a traumatic experience. It causes flashbacks, nightmares, fear and avoidance of anything related to the trauma.
  • Acute stress disorder (ASD). ASD is also triggered by a traumatic experience, but the symptoms are short-lived compared to PTSD. Symptoms typically last for a few days to one month.
  • Adjustment disorders (AD). Adjustment disorders cause exaggerated reactions to stressful situations, such as losing a loved one or getting a divorce. Individuals with AD have a poor ability to cope.
  • Reactive attachment disorder (RAD). RAD is generally seen in children who fail to develop a healthy attachment to a parent or caregiver. Infants and children with RAD are often withdrawn, sad and unengaged.
  • Disinhibited social engagement disorder (DSED). Another attachment disorder, DSED affects children who have been neglected or traumatized. However, the symptoms are less severe than with RAD.
  • Unspecified trauma- and stressor-related disorders. It’s also possible to have undiagnosed trauma, which means there isn’t sufficient information to make a full diagnosis.
Shining Light on the Trauma-Mental Health Link

It’s no secret that a connection exists between trauma and mental health. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study is one of the largest studies of its kind that looked at childhood abuse and neglect and its effects on later life. What the study found was eye-opening. A child who experiences four or more traumatic events is at a 4- to 12-fold increased risk for alcoholism, drug abuse, depression and suicide attempt.

The reasons why people who have experienced trauma are more likely to suffer mental illness are complex. Here are some theories.

  • Genetics. People are unique in how they process trauma. It’s possible that some people have a heightened response to stressful situations, putting them at risk for PTSD and depression.
  • Self-medication. People who try to manage the effects of trauma may turn to drugs and alcohol to feel better. However, this is only an illusion, as drugs and alcohol worsen the symptoms of mental illness.
  • Harmful environment. Children who suffer abuse and neglect may continue to live in an unfavorable environment where more trauma occurs. Over time, the repeated trauma compromises their mental stability.
  • Unhealthy attachments. A child who is abused or neglected has a harder time developing healthy relationships. This can put them at risk for developing depression or anxiety.

Trauma Responds Best to a Multidisciplinary Approach

La Ventana offers a multidisciplinary approach that addresses unresolved trauma and mental illness. By identifying all aspects of psychological health, we can create a comprehensive treatment program that supports full healing.

We believe that a comprehensive treatment approach is more effective than a medical model, as it involves reaching a full recovery emotionally, physically and spiritually. We realize that trauma victims have a lot of healing to do, and this requires more than a few hours in therapy. By addressing past trauma and developing healthy coping mechanisms, we give our clients the strength and life skills they need to lead healthy, balanced lives.

Contact Our Trauma Treatment Program Today

Clearly, trauma and mental health are interrelated. When a person experiences trauma, it compromises their mental stability. They may then turn to harmful behaviors to cope, such as self-harm or drugs and alcohol. It’s a vicious cycle that affects far too many people. Fortunately, these individuals do not have to suffer in silence. Treatment is available, and recovery is possible. Contact La Ventana to learn more about our multidisciplinary approach to treating trauma and mental illness.