Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is one of the most well-known trauma-related disorders, but it’s just one of many mental health conditions with potential roots in psychological shock.
Trauma is an experience of being overwhelmed. Natural disasters, death, abuse, and assault are all common causes of trauma.
When your natural coping mechanisms are overrun by what you’re experiencing — physically, mentally, or both — your body does what it can to protect you. This includes short-term effects like emotional numbing or keeping you in a state of alertness.
It’s natural to have an extreme reaction to trauma. However, sometimes the effects of trauma linger, persisting throughout life, causing impairment, and interfering with daily activities.
When this happens, you may be living with a trauma-related disorder.
Trauma is not limited to any specific mental health condition.
When you live through something psychologically devastating, it can play a role in multiple areas of your mental health, even if you don’t have a diagnosable disorder.
Some conditions are more closely linked to traumatic experiences than others. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR), trauma-related disorders include:
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- reactive attachment disorder (RAD)
- disinhibited social engagement disorder (DSED)
- acute stress disorder (ASD)
- adjustment disorder
- unspecified trauma- and stressor-related disorder
These are not the only trauma-linked disorders. Other conditions often seen in the aftermath of traumatic experiences include:
Nothing you’ve done makes you deserving of trauma, and trauma can affect anyone. However, some populations may be more vulnerable than others, putting them at a higher risk of trauma.
These groups include:
- older adults
- military personnel and their families
- first responders
- youth experiencing housing insecurity
- LGBTQ individuals
- people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities
- those under economic stress
Intersectionality and trauma
Intersectionality is the sociological concept that human experiences are influenced by more than one factor, such as age, race, gender, or economic class.
When it comes to trauma, intersectionality can play a role in:
- how likely you are to experience trauma
- what type of trauma you may experience
- how you respond to that trauma
For example, LGBTQ+ military personnel may face different stressors than non-LGBTQ+ individuals experiencing the same military-related trauma.
Another example can be seen in the emergence of racial trauma, or trauma experienced after long-term exposure to racial discrimination.
Ultimately, trauma is a multifaceted experience that can be different for each person, even if the traumatic event is the same.
The DSM-5-TR indicates prominent features of trauma-related disorders include:
- dysphoria (general dissatisfaction or unhappiness)
- anhedonia (diminished ability to experience pleasure)
- external anger and aggression
- dissociation (depersonalization, derealization, amnesia, identity confusion, and identity alteration)
Trauma symptoms are diverse across many mental health disorders. They’re not limited to a handful of experiences. Other symptoms you might notice include:
- emotional numbness or hypersensitivity
- mood swings (emotional dysregulation)
- disordered eating
- compulsive behaviors
- sleep disturbance (nightmares, insomnia, restless sleep)
- substance misuse
- chronic physical pain
- muscle tension
- cognitive distortions
- trauma-related hallucinations or delusions
- intrusive thoughts/memories
- reexperiencing (flashbacks)
- social withdrawal
If you’re living with a trauma-related disorder, speaking with a mental health professional who specializes in trauma can help. Trauma-informed therapists can help with determining the best psychotherapy approaches for your unique symptoms.
In general, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is typically the primary method of treating trauma-related disorders. CBT can help you restructure the relationship between your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
Specific CBT therapies for trauma-related disorders include:
- trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT)
- cognitive processing therapy (CPT)
- prolonged exposure therapy (PET)
- cognitive therapy (CT)
Your therapist may also recommend supportive treatments, such as:
- eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR)
- brief eclectic psychotherapy (BEP)
- narrative exposure therapy (NET)
- group therapy
- animal therapy
- supportive therapy
- medications for symptoms of depression or anxiety
Coping with trauma on a community level
Individual guidance is just one part of treating some trauma-related disorders. Sometimes trauma affects a community, such as with natural disasters or war.
Public health initiatives that can also be a part of trauma-related disorder treatment include:
- community awareness and recognition outreach
- creating public training and education opportunities
- developing community programs that bring different demographics together in a positive setting
Living with trauma
Trauma can affect every aspect of your life. And while it can feel isolating, you’re not alone. As many as 70% of adults in the United States have experienced a traumatic event in their lives.
That’s more than 223 million people.
If you’ve experienced trauma or feel you may be living with a trauma-related disorder, you can confidentially speak with someone anytime (day or night) by calling the SAMHSA National Help Line at 1-800-662-4357.
You can learn more about trauma-related disorders and find local resources by visiting:
Trauma-related disorders are conditions that can be linked to traumatic experiences. They include PTSD and adjustment disorder, and on a boarder spectrum, conditions like depression and anxiety disorders.
However, trauma is not limited to specific mental health conditions. It’s an experience that can have lasting effects that overlap, affecting mental and physical health.
Psychotherapy can help you heal and learn new, positive ways of restructuring thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
If you believe you are living with a trauma-related disorder, talking with a healthcare professional can be a helpful first step in getting support.