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How Trauma Impacts Mental Health

The Impact of Trauma on Mental Health

Trauma is any event that overwhelms a person’s ability to cope. Trauma can occur to people at any age, but children are most susceptible to the lasting impact of trauma because they have not yet developed the coping skills needed to handle difficult events. At Carolina Dunes Behavioral Health, we support trauma survivors every day within our mental health work.

Examples of Traumatic Events

Each person experiences difficult things in their own way, so what may be traumatic for one person may not be for the next. Some events, however, are frequently considered to be traumatic:

  • Natural disasters
  • Sudden loss of loved ones
  • Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • Witnessing violence
  • Entering foster care
  • Combat

Trauma Versus Post-Traumatic Stress

If you have heard about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), you may wonder how that is different from simply experiencing trauma. Some people experience a trauma so severe that it has a long-lasting impact on their day-to-day life. These people may be experiencing PTSD, a mental health condition that arises specifically as a result of trauma. 

The Impact of Trauma on Mental Health

When a person experiences a single traumatic event and receives immediate support, it is less likely that there will be negative long-term consequences. Unfortunately, when this does not occur the following symptoms may appear:


  • Dysregulation – difficulty managing painful emotions like anger, fear, sadness, and shame
  • Numbing – emotions become detached from thoughts, behaviors, and memories
  • Feeling different from other people, which can lead to feeling alone
  • Feeling triggered by reminders of the trauma


  • Frequent symptoms of illness – nausea, headaches, and abdominal pain are common 
  • Sleep disturbances – nightmares and inability to sleep
  • Hyperarousal – being constantly on edge, watching for threats


  • Misinterpreting the current situation as dangerous because it has minor similarities to a past trauma
  • Assigning excessive guilt and blame to oneself
  • Rationalizing abuse by a loved one who inflicted trauma
  • Hallucinations and delusions related to the trauma
  • Intrusive thoughts about what occurred
  • Dissociation, depersonalization, and derealization – “checking out” mentally from what is happening, feeling as though they are leaving their own body and watching events as a third party. Some of the signs that a person could be experiencing this include:
    • Fixed or “glazed” expression
    • Sudden flattened affect
    • Extended silence
    • Monotone speech
    • Responses that do not fit the current situation or context


  • Reenacting the traumatic event
  • Self-Harm
  • Isolation
  • Self-medication with substances
  • Avoidance

Trauma Response of Children and Teens

Due to different developmental stages, children and adolescents may not have the same responses to trauma as adults. For example, very young children may respond to trauma by:

  • Wetting the bed
  • Losing speech abilities
  • Acting out the event through play
  • Being clingy with trusted adults

Older children and teens may have symptoms similar to those experienced by adults but also behave in ways that seem disruptive, disrespectful, and destructive. 

Other Mental Health Conditions Related to Trauma

Not only is it possible for people to develop PTSD as a result of experiencing trauma, but traumatic events can also sometimes trigger other mental health concerns:

Resilience and Trauma

Although people may have a combination of the reactions listed above after experiencing trauma, many people are also able to face trauma and bounce back with little or no significant long-term impact. This is generally possible because the person has:

  • Support – from friends, family, professionals, or others who have experienced similar traumatic events.
  • Coping skills – exercise, meditation, hobbies, socialization with supportive people, and other tools can make it easier to manage difficult experiences; good coping skills also help people avoid unhealthy alternatives, like alcohol and other drugs.
  • Routine – the person is able to establish day-to-day practices that provide stability and consistency in their life.

How Trauma is Treated

The symptoms of trauma are typically treated with a combination of talk therapy and medications. Therapy typically focuses on developing coping skills and processing feelings. Pharmaceuticals given are often anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications. Additionally, mindfulness and yoga may be offered alongside these more traditional approaches.

When to Get Help

If you have been trying to shake off the difficult feelings you have been experiencing around a traumatic event for more than a month, and if your symptoms are interfering with your quality of life, it is time to reach out for help. This could mean talking to your family doctor, a mental health provider, or a counselor at a crisis line like 988, the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

At Carolina Dunes Behavioral Health, we help adolescents, families, and seniors, many of whom have had to navigate traumatic experiences, on their journey to recovery. We offer trauma-informed, customized services to all of our patients through a wide range of mental health services. 

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