Mental Disorders Caused by Trauma

Traumatic experiences are more common than you think. According to the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Alliance, more than 70 percent of Americans have experienced trauma in their lifetimes. In America, eight million people will experience a traumatic event each year, according to the National Center for PTSD.

Examples of traumas include sexual assault, harassment, molestation, or anything forced against your will. The same is true for physical assaults. Other traumas can consist of being a victim of a natural disaster. Hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods can create massive damage in your life. Whether they cause lasting damage or not, serious accidents can cause lingering, frightening memories. Even the loss of a loved one unexpectedly can create grief so overwhelming it becomes a trauma in your life.

Traumatic experiences can lead to mental disorders, like the ones below:

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

One in eleven Americans, or 3.5%, are diagnosed with PTSD at some point in their lifetime. Symptoms of PTSD fall into four categories: intrusion, avoidance, alterations in cognition and mood, and alterations in arousal and reactivity.

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Acute Stress Disorder (ASD)

Among those who experience a traumatic event, between 6% and 33% will develop acute stress disorder within one month after the trauma. Symptoms of ASD may overlap with PTSD. However, those with ASD may feel like they have out-of-body experiences and may be confused about where they are and what is happening.

Secondhand Trauma

Secondhand trauma may also be known as vicarious traumatization. The trauma is experienced by someone else, but you are also affected by witnessing that person going through the trauma. An example is when a child watches a parent be repeatedly physically abused. While they are not abused, seeing someone they love get hurt is just as traumatizing.

Symptoms of secondhand trauma may include guilt, fear, anger, cynicism, and feeling like everything you try to do to help is never good enough.

Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)

Reactive attachment disorder happens when an emotional connection is not made between a child and their primary caregiver. This often happens with children who have been placed in children’s homes or separated from their parents for a long time, especially in the years before age 5. An example is when parents are incarcerated or are actively engaged in criminal behavior that takes priority.

Children with RAD are often withdrawn and appear to have depressive symptoms. They may also appear irritable, fearful, or have other negative emotions when there is no apparent reason to feel that way.

Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder (DSED)

Children with DSED have no trouble meeting and engaging with strangers but cannot form emotional bonds with those close to them. DSED is similar to RAD, except that children with DSED are more outgoing and can socialize in groups.

DSED can have a dangerous side, like when a child has no fear of being alone with a stranger. They blindly trust people they do not know.

Adjustment Disorder (AD)

Adjustment disorder is typically diagnosed within three months after experiencing a traumatic event. AD refers to the inability to cope with symptoms of the trauma. Sometimes, the reactive symptoms to the trauma are more extreme than they should be.

Symptoms often include nervousness, anxiety, crying, withdrawal from people, and thoughts of suicide. Others may lack appetite, sleep disturbances, and feelings of hopelessness.

Other and Unspecified Trauma and Stressor Related Disorders

This category is used when someone doesn’t meet the complete diagnostic criteria for other trauma disorders but shows signs of one or more. More time may be needed to confirm the accurate diagnosis.

Treatments for Mental Disorders Caused by Trauma

Typically, a combination of medication and therapies are recommended to treat mental health disorders caused by trauma. Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications are often used for treatment, along with treatment with a licensed mental health professional. Your therapist will utilize behavioral therapies, including the following:

The American Psychological Association recommends cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to treat PTSD because the goal is to change your thinking, which will change the way you act or react. Cognitive processing is designed to replace negative thoughts with healthier, more realistic ones.

EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is a treatment provided by a certified EMDR therapist who completes extensive training. Your therapist will help you decrease the vividness of the trauma and detach emotions associated with the trauma using eye movements.

The Trauma Resilience Model of therapy teaches you new ways to deal with stressful events. You don’t have to repeat the same cycle of negative emotions that lead to negative behaviors.

Post-Induction Therapy Model is a unique treatment for those with childhood traumas which may now find themselves in co-dependent and other attachment disorders. With some traumas, our emotional development is hindered. While the body grows, emotions remain at the age of the trauma. With this therapy, you can process your trauma and quickly regain emotional maturity.

Written Exposure Therapy is a newer treatment in which a therapist gives you specific instructions that guide you in writing about your trauma. You will also be directed in writing about the thoughts and feelings surrounding the trauma. While this is not considered a front-line therapy, it can be beneficial as a supplement to the other treatments.

Who Is at Risk for a Mental Disorder Caused by Trauma?

Not everyone who experiences trauma will develop a mental health disorder. Two or more people can survive a traumatic experience, and one will develop a trauma disorder while the other may not seem phased by the event.

While there are no conclusive explanations for why this happens, common risk factors are found among those with trauma disorders. Risk factors include having another mental illness, having experienced previous trauma, misuse of alcohol or drugs, and the lack of a sound support system.

If you, or someone you know, have experienced trauma and are dealing with unexpected symptoms, reach out for help today. Our trauma specialists are available around-the-clock to take your call and help you start recovery.