Stress & Trauma

Trauma can occur as a result of violence, abuse, neglect, loss, and other emotionally harmful experiences. The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration recognizes that, “Individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.”

Traumatic Situations

In later life, situations that present trauma might include:

  • Significant/compounded losses (of friends, family, community)
  • Injury/illness (both chronic and acute)
  • Significant disability (reducing independence and functional ability)
  • Loss of autonomy/identity (a crisis of selfesteem and threat to spiritual well-being and hope)
  • Financial distress (inability to afford food, medications, housing)
  • Institutionalization (hospitalization/nursing home stay)
  • Victimization/elder abuse (a growing problem in America)

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “Research has shown that traumatic experiences are associated with both behavioral health and chronic physical health conditions…it is important to understand the nature and impact of trauma, and to explore healing.” Without help, an older adult experiencing trauma or suffering from the effects of an earlier trauma can suffer a decline in quality of life.

Post-traumatic stress disorder

People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have been victims of, or exposed to, a traumatic event with feelings of intense fear, helplessness and/ or horror. Symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, “reliving” the event, and intense distress when exposed to a “trigger” – a reminder of the event. This may lead the person with PTSD to avoid people, places and things that are associated with the event.

People with PTSD may experience:

  • Nightmares
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Disconnection from other people
  • Difficulty forming loving attachments
  • Negativity about the future
  • Frequent irritability or angry outbursts
  • Emotional numbness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling “on guard” and easily startled

PTSD can become active at any time, even decades after the traumatic event occurred. Certain sights, sounds, smells, feelings, and even ordinary experiences can trigger memories of traumatic events from long ago. PTSD often co-occurs with depression, substance use disorders, and/or anxiety disorders. There is treatment for PTSD at any age. Through therapy and management of symptoms, people go on to lead full and rewarding lives. When seeking mental health care, one can look for a professional with specialty expertise in PTSD.

Related Article

MHAMD’s Kim Burton To Present Wellness Series in Howard County Focused on Older Adult Mental Health

MHAMD’s Director of Adult Programs Kim Burton will present a series of free talks focused on older adult mental health starting on Wednesday, October 17, at 6:00 p.m. at the Ellicott City 50+ Center in Ellicott City. The series will continue with additional talks on Tuesday, November 6, and Tuesday, December 4. 

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