Trauma is a global phenomenon. It does not discriminate by the money you have, your education, or even the value you place on the world around you. Trauma can happen to anyone. Once you’ve navigated something traumatic, you may feel you’re on the up and up—looking toward a brighter future. But trauma can linger, creating impacts that extend into any facet of your life.
So what are the mental disorders caused by trauma, and how can you recognize them? Read on to learn more about five trauma-related mental health disorders, their co-occurring risks, and how you can help yourself (or a loved one).
What happens after you experience trauma?
Trauma is any event (or series of events) that overwhelms your ability to cope. From catastrophe to heartbreak, there is no limit on the spaces or reasons in which you may experience trauma.
When you’ve been traumatized, your brain begins scrambling for ways to make sense of something that is just too much to work through. During trauma, your body prepares to protect itself. After trauma, the mind tries to recover from whatever protection it couldn’t muster through coping tools that help numb or normalize what you’ve been through. For those who are in recovery, it’s likely your substance use is tied in one way or another to coping mechanisms you’ve used to try to overcome or numb that trauma.
How does trauma affect your mental health?
In the days, months, and even years following trauma, the landscape of your mental health changes. How you feel your feelings and how you respond to them become foreign. You may no longer be sure how to relate to yourself or the world around you. Sensory and hormonal input are physical, but the way you feel them begins to feel like there’s a stranger in your thoughts, sharing your body. Many people seek the opportunity to evade that unsettling sensation, increasing the risk of developing unhealthy coping mechanisms. The impact of trauma can also increase the risk of co-occurring disorders that muddle your ability to prioritize it.
There are several mental health disorders associated with trauma. Each is defined by a unique set of symptoms that responds to the universal desire to recover from (or reject the pain of) trauma.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Most well known in association with military veterans, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder has become characterized by flashbacks, rage, and insomnia. The lived experience of PTSD is much more varied, however. People who have experienced trauma on any level may develop PTSD. Symptoms do include the things listed above, but those experiencing PTSD may also have dissociative episodes, depression, a deep sense of shame, withdrawal, or destructive substance use.
Complex PTSD surfaces in cases where people are subjected to trauma over long periods, such as childhood abuse or wartime. The COVID pandemic may create an influx of complex PTSD cases. This disorder is characterized by a negative view of self, trauma-related amnesia, memory repression, detachment of self, and low awareness of core values.
Acute Stress Disorder (ASD)
This disorder mimics the symptoms of PTSD in every way except one- Acute Stress Disorder occurs for a brief interval. Despite its brevity, ASD can have long-term ramifications if the coping mechanisms it brings about don’t depart with it.
A familiar disorder to those who have witnessed formative types of trauma occurring to other people, secondhand trauma is unique in its symptoms and expression. Being traumatized by watching someone else experience trauma may lead to feelings of helplessness, fear of loss of control, hypervigilance, amplified negative emotions, or chronic fatigue.
Most often triggered by experiences that markedly change the way you exist within your life, adjustment disorders are much like they sound. If you’re struggling to find your way within the new landscape of your life, you may be suffering from adjustment disorder. This trauma-induced mental health challenge manifests in sleeplessness, a feeling of burnout, overwhelming feelings, heightened stress, lack of focus, neglecting responsibilities, and frequent sadness.
While we have only covered a handful of the specific mental disorders caused by trauma, it’s important to note that many more exist. It’s also common that these disorders present as a combination of manifestations. Trauma-induced mental health disorders may also reveal themselves through the disorders that come from coping mechanisms you use to avoid their symptoms.
Any of these disorders may present with suicidal thoughts or instances of self-harm. These things are always an emergency, and you should not wait to seek help. Reach out to emergency services now.
Recovery is possible. Support is available. If you recognize yourself in these words, please reach out. You are worthy of the possibility that awaits you.