Why Trauma May Be the Root Cause of Mental Illnesses

By Karen Robinson

Heal Thrive Dream 

The Link Between Trauma and Mental Illnesses

Mental health is a topic that affects every single one of us. From anxiety to depression and everything in between, the impact of mental illness can be debilitating for those who suffer from it. While there are many factors that contribute to the development of mental illnesses, such as genetics or environmental influences, research has shown that trauma may be one of the most significant root causes. This has been my experience in clinical therapy as well.

If you have been following my work for awhile, you may know that I often share how trauma can take many forms, ranging from childhood abuse to physical violence or any other event that overwhelms a person's ability to cope. When it comes to mental health, trauma is particularly damaging because it can cause structural changes in the brain itself. What is truly intriguing, trauma can impact several areas of the brain. 

Trauma's Impact on the Brain

Trauma can have a devastating impact on our mental health, and it's not just restricted to the immediate aftermath of an event. Researchers have found that trauma can actually alter our brain chemistry in ways that affect us for years to come. This is especially true when it comes to child abuse, which can leave deep scars that last well into adulthood. Children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable as their brains are not fully developed into mid to late 20s.

If you or someone you love has childhood trauma in your past, you are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses later in life. Our brains are still developing during childhood, and traumatic events can disrupt our development. Trauma can also cause changes in the way we process emotions and regulate stress, making us more vulnerable to mental health problems down the line.

The brain is one of the most affected organs in cases of trauma or abuse, and it's important to understand how this happens. I will focus on two ways here, but research does point to more areas of the brain impacted. Research continues to be ongoing.

One way in which trauma affects the brain is through changes to its structure. Trauma survivors often have a smaller hippocampus, which is responsible for memory consolidation and emotional regulation. This means that traumatic memories become more ingrained and difficult to process, leading to long-lasting effects on mental health.

Another way in which trauma affects the brain is through changes to its chemistry. Traumatic experiences can cause an increase in stress hormones such as cortisol, which over time can damage areas of the brain associated with emotion regulation and decision making.

Why is it important to recognize the role in trauma when discussing mental health? Treatment is why. But first, let’s look at common mental health diagnoses linked to trauma. 

Common Mental Illnesses Linked to Trauma

The three most known mental illnesses connected to trauma and abuse.

PTSD, Depression, Anxiety Disorders

As previously discussed, traumatic experiences can cause significant changes in the brain, which can lead to various mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and even schizophrenia. Traumatic events like physical or emotional abuse can affect the brain's ability to regulate emotions, causing individuals to struggle with controlling their feelings and reactions.

Trauma and abuse can trigger a physiological response in the brain known as hypervigilance. This means that a person remains on high alert mode for an extended period, leading to heightened levels of stress hormones, included the well known cortisol. The constant release of these hormones over time has been linked with structural changes in the brain in areas responsible for memory processing and emotional regulation.

Treating Trauma to Heal Mental Illnesses

Treating trauma is crucial for healing mental health. Trauma can have a profound impact on our lives, leaving us feeling overwhelmed, scared, and unable to cope with daily tasks. It's important to acknowledge the impact of trauma on our mental health and take steps towards recovery.

Treating trauma involves a variety of approaches including therapy, medication, and self-care. Therapy can help us process traumatic experiences and provide strategies for coping with triggers. Medication can alleviate symptoms such as anxiety or depression that may arise from trauma. Self-care activities like mindfulness meditation or exercise can also be powerful tools for healing.

It's important to seek support when dealing with trauma as it can significantly improve our overall wellbeing. By treating trauma, we are taking care of ourselves in the most compassionate way possible- by acknowledging our past pain and actively working towards healing.

Therapies for Recovery

  • EMDR - Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
  • PE - Prolonged Exposure
  • CPT - Cognitive Processing Therapy
  • SE - Somatic Experiencing
  • TREM - Trauma Recovery Empowerment Model
  • DBT - Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
  • ACT - Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

*These are the most common but there are many more.

Why it's Important to Address Trauma in Mental Health Treatment

Trauma is a painful experience that can severely affect the mental health of an individual. Traumatic experiences such as physical or emotional abuse, accidents, natural disasters, and violence can result in deep-seated psychological wounds that require professional help to overcome. The negative effects of trauma on mental health are vast and can show up in several ways such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), flashbacks, and other forms of emotional distress.

Therapy is one of the most effective ways to address trauma and its impact on mental health. By working with trained professionals who know how to navigate the complexities of trauma recovery, individuals can find relief from their symptoms and start rebuilding their lives. Therapy provides a safe space for individuals to share their experiences without fear of judgment or shame. It also offers specific tools and techniques for coping with difficult emotions that arise during the recovery process.

Taking Steps Towards a Healthier Future

In conclusion, addressing trauma in mental health treatment is crucial to the wellbeing and recovery of individuals struggling with mental health issues. It is important to recognize that trauma can have long-lasting effects on a person's mental health, and therefore should be treated with the same priority as any other medical condition. By creating safe spaces for individuals to address their traumas, mental health professionals can help them work through the past and move towards a brighter future. If you or someone you know may be struggling with trauma-related mental health issues, seeking professional help is highly recommended to begin the healing process. Remember, it's never too late to start your journey towards healing and hope.

To consult with Karen on how you can start your journey, sign up for a consult today

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Karen Robinson

  Karen Robinson  

About the Author

I'm licensed therapist with 25 years of clinical experience. Service driven, specializing in trauma recovery, anxiety, and depression, holistic care, and transformation to create an impact for trauma survivors globally. Services include coaching, therapy, virtual courses, digital products, and on-line memberships.

Are you a survivor in need of HOPE?