Trauma and Mental Health

iStock_000017054530_SmallThe impact of trauma is individual to each person. Trauma often impacts our core parts of self and therefore by its very nature is a deep and life altering experience. Exposure to trauma can affect many areas of one’s life and can increase the risk of a range of vulnerabilities. Some of these vulnerabilities include: (some information taken from Dr. Kathleen Young’s website Reference)

  • Relationship Problems – difficulty with communication, trouble setting or maintaining healthy boundaries, repeating unhealthy patterns in relationships, trouble choosing safe partners, difficulty getting close to people, difficulty trusting others, and/or falling into abusive patterns with others.
  • Social Alienation – feeling alone, feeling different from others, never feeling accepted, feeling stigmatized, and/or experiencing social phobia.
  • Low Self-Esteem – self-doubt, self-blame, shame, feeling like a “bad” person, and/or feeling like an imposter.
  • Difficulty Thinking Clearly – dissociation, “spacing out,” feel confused, difficulty interpreting the world accurately, amnesia or forgetting parts of your life, and/or trouble concentrating.
  • Difficulty with Feelings –difficulty recognizing, managing, or “appropriately” expressing feelings, depression, panic attacks, anxiety, problems with anger, disruptive fear(s), substance dependency or abuse, nightmares, and/or self harm behaviors.
  • Body Issues – disconnection or dissociation from one’s body, a feeling of being “unreal,” distorted body image, harsh judgment or hatred of the body or body parts, self harm behaviors, eating disorders, substance dependence or abuse, sexual problems, and/or numbing of bodily areas.
  • Sexual Challenges – sexual inhibition or compulsive sexual behavior, flashbacks to abusive experiences during sexual contact, inability to achieve orgasm, pain or numbing during intimacy, and/or sexual aggression towards others.
  • Physical problems – persistent body aches (chronic pain), physical problems that arise when stressed, digestive issues (stomach aches, vomiting, irritable bowel syndrome), backaches, migraines, arthritis, chronic fatigue, feeling agitated or physically restless, and/or sexual problems.

 The Adverse Childhood Experience Study

The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study provides one of the most in-depth looks at the relationship between childhood experiences of trauma and the impact on health and well-being later in life.

This study is important because it was the first time such a strong link was made between psychological and physical well-being and earlier traumatic exposures.

The ACE study found that the more adverse childhood experiences or traumas that a person had endured, the more at risk this individual was to long-term disease, disability, chronic social problems and early death.

Prevalence of Trauma

Trauma has been found to be the central issue for people with mental health problems, substance abuse problems, and co-occurring disorders. Studies conducted over the past decade have consistently highlighted the link between trauma, mental health, and behavioral health. These studies have found:

  • Between 34% and 53% of people diagnosed with a severe mental disability report childhood physical or sexual abuse (with some studies reporting figures as high as 51% to 98%);
  • As many as 80% of adults (both men and women) in psychiatric hospitals have experienced physical or sexual abuse;
  • The majority of adults diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (81%) or Dissociative Identity Disorder (90%) were abused as children;
  • Up to 66% of adults (both men and women) in substance abuse treatment report childhood abuse or neglect;
  • 82% of young people in inpatient and residential treatment programs have histories of trauma;
  • 93% of psychiatrically hospitalized adolescents had histories of physical, sexual, and/or psychological trauma, and 32% met criteria for PTSD.
  • (Reference)

While the prevalence of trauma is high and the impacts of these traumas are significant, people can and do recover and heal.  There are many resources indicated in this website that can assist the healing process.


For more information about the relationship between trauma and mental health: