Healing trauma’s invisible wounds

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Mental Health America of Lancaster County
It could be a rape, bullying, poverty, neglect or even a hurricane or mass tragedy.  Whatever the cause, a traumatic event has a devastating impact on physical, emotional and mental well-being. Communities can be traumatized, as well.  
This May, as part of its annual Mental Health Month activities, Mental Health America of Lancaster County (MHALC) is raising awareness of trauma, the human and societal costs and how therapeutic techniques based in neuroscience can mitigate these effects and create dramatic changes in people’s lives.
Most people think “trauma” refers to the physical trauma that occurs as a result of a car accident or assault.  But it’s much more that.  
Trauma includes interpersonal violence, such as abuse and bullying; social violence, such as war and terrorism; natural disasters and accidents; serving in combat; stressors such as poverty and humiliation; and childhood trauma, which includes physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
As a society, we are just beginning to deal with trauma – bringing it out of the shadows, finding new ways of healing its wounds and casting off the shame that prevents trauma survivors from seeking help.
When children or adults respond to traumas with fear, horror and/or helplessness, the extreme stress is toxic to their brains and bodies, and overwhelms their ability to cope.  While many people who experience a traumatic event are able to move on with their lives without lasting negative effects, others may have more difficulty managing their responses to trauma.
Unresolved trauma can manifest in many ways, including anxiety disorders, panic attacks, intrusive memories (flashbacks), obsessive-compulsive behaviors, post-traumatic stress disorder, addictions, self injury and a variety of physical symptoms.  
Trauma increases health-risk behaviors such as overeating, smoking, drinking and risky sex.  Trauma survivors can become perpetrators themselves.
Unaddressed trauma can significantly increase the risk of mental and substance-use disorders, suicide, chronic physical ailments and premature death.
Until recently, trauma survivors were largely unrecognized by the formal treatment system. The costs of trauma and its aftermath to victims and society were not well-documented.  
Inadvertently, treatment systems may have frequently re-traumatized individuals and failed to understand the impact of traumatic experiences on general and mental health.
Today, the causes of trauma – sexual abuse and violence in families and neighborhoods, for example – are matters of public concern. But more needs to be done to recognize the devastating impact of trauma and successful treatment.
Many trauma survivors have formed self-help groups to heal together.  Researchers have learned how trauma changes the brain and alters behavior.  
A movement for trauma-informed care has emerged to ensure that trauma is recognized and treated and that survivors are not re-victimized when they seek care.
It is critical that these efforts be strengthened and we heal the invisible wounds of trauma.  They are crucial to promoting the healthy development of children and healthy behaviors in families, schools and communities that reduce the likelihood of trauma.
For more information about Mental Health America, visit its website at mentalhealthamerica.net.