Trauma and Mental Health

By: Dr. Denise Casey, Psy.D, CADC, NBCCHT, ACH, CCT, Founder and Director

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Watch 20 minutes of the news, read the headlines of any city newspapers, watch any special report on TV and you will see Trauma. 

We are bombarded with words, stories, images. The topics vary, but are all the same at their core. On a world wide level we are subject to news of shootings, terrorism, murders, war, torture, domestic violence, abused children, rape and the list goes on. Day after day we learn to inoculate ourselves against it. We build a tolerance. But none of us truly escape the impact it has on our psyche and our mental health. 

On a general level we feel stressed. Some people choose not to watch, shutting off their TV news in favor of Facebook, novels or golf. But denial can only last so long before something pierces through the veil of invulnerability. It happens in our neighborhood, to someone we know or some story catches our heart. At any time the question under the surface is the question: "What if it were me?" 

Those whose lives are personally touched will experience trauma on a much deeper level. It becomes embedded in their life story. Coping can become one of numbing or avoiding. Alcohol, prescriptions and controlling behaviors can emerge. Relationships become challenged and social isolation is not uncommon. Trauma is also linked to many chronic health conditions. 

Some people's lives will be destroyed. Others will rebound with renewed purpose and determination. Researches have identified that resilience is ordinary not extraordinary. It is a set of thoughts, behaviors and actions that can be taught. The human spirit is resoundingly strong and can rise above any trauma. 

The key to resilience is how we hold the story. What meaning we give to it. Viewing anything as insurmountable will be disempowering. The first important step is to find hope. Each culture may have a different manner of coping, but finding others to hear the story, instill hope and provide resources is important. 

Second, the meaning we assign our experience will navigate our journey. People who are able to see how the trauma has taught them or how it can benefit others will have accelerated recoveries. They find or create purpose for the trauma. 

Third, embracing the complexity of emotions will allow movement through the experience. Grief accompanies trauma; loss of innocence, vanished dreams, or damage to "life as we know it." 

Resilience requires regrouping. While feelings may take time to resolve, taking action will allow movement in a new direction. Hard times require people to dig deep within themselves where they often find they are stronger than they knew. Trauma can be a teacher to us all.