What would you say if I told you that researchers, doctors, cities, states, and national organizations have found a way to help prevent the top 10 causes of death? What if I told you that this discovery would improve academic and behavioral outcomes; create safer and stronger communities; and help communities bounce back after tragic events? What if individuals who received this “cure” gained the tools needed to learn and recover better; reduce violence; and improve workplace performance? Hopefully, you would say, “Sign me up! I want the tools and resources to help me, my family, my business, and my community succeed!”
For over 10 years, the mental and behavioral health communities have been discussing this “cure”: trauma-informed care. Since Hurricane Katrina; the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; and research based on a late-1990s study of adverse childhood experiences, experts have known about the long-term impacts and consequences of trauma. We have also learned a lot about trauma’s effects on the mind, body, soul, and community. More importantly, we have learned what heals! This era included major investments in studying the science of trauma and its impacts on the self, the brain, and general behaviors. Because of this research, we know a lot about effective strategies for improving health, academic, behavioral, wellness, and societal outcomes.
Understanding trauma and helping individuals heal from it are top priorities for every human services organization. SAMSHA’s trauma-informed approach involves:
Realizing that trauma is real and is a universal experience. More people are affected by trauma and toxic stress than we typically acknowledge or address. Everyone should understand how to help individuals and communities be more resilient.
Recognizing the signs and symptoms of trauma and understanding how it influences thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Instead of asking “what’s wrong with people?” we should be asking “what happened to them?”
Responding to improve the options, tools, and resources that are available to address the needs of affected individuals.
Recovering to ensure that those affected have a chance at better futures.
Avoiding retraumatizing to create communities, organizations, policies, procedures, and practices that are about healing, recovery, and resilience.
If we continue to let misdiagnosis, labeling, lack of treatment, poor treatment, and restrictive policies govern how we interact with youth, families, and each other, then people will be in pain longer and struggle more to bounce back. Imagine breaking a leg but never seeking the proper treatment. One day, the leg might be usable. However, without professional healing, the leg will always cause pain and may never regain full function. Failing to treat a severe break could also cause additional damage—even death.
To correct a lack of proper care, healing sometimes requires rebreaking the bone followed by extensive treatment to fix the original damage and the additional damage caused by neglect. When we don't label or identify the right need, we create barriers to real healing and frequently inflict further injury. We must stop treating and addressing the symptoms of trauma. Instead, we must address the root causes. (For example, no one treats gunshot wounds with Band-Aids.)
As part of Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day—May 10, 2018—communities across the nation are planning to renew their focus on this issue. Organizers aim to encourage communities to recommit or fully commit to becoming trauma informed. This year’s theme for Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day is “Partnering for Health and Hope Following Trauma.” This theme “will focus on the importance of an integrated approach to caring for the mental health needs of children, youth, and young adults who have experienced trauma, as well as their families.” Organizations from all over county will be hosting relevant events, discussions, and activities. Look for local options and more information.
This year’s theme is meant to encourage social services; mental and behavioral health providers; schools; justice systems; and community organizations to partner with youth and families to help promote healing and resilience. Compelling data and our real stories suggest that when organizations do not collaborate with one another, young people—especially the most vulnerable—suffer. They suffer because they are not given the care and resources that they need. Barriers to care force victims to constantly and indefinitely relive their trauma narratives; no one sees, acknowledges, or responds to their pain.
Imagine that you’re the parent of a child who has experienced trauma. Imagine being alone with that burden. Then, imagine that you are surrounded by the unconditional love, care, and support of your community. Which is the better scenario?