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Strengthening Personal and Community Resilience to Mitigate the Impact of Disaster Trauma

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Linda Ligenza, LCSW

Clinical Services Director, National Council for Behavioral Health

Strengthening Personal and Community Resilience to Mitigate the Impact of Disaster Trauma

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Who comes to mind when you think of someone who has suffered from a traumatic event? If you ask most people, they are likely to say a member of the Armed Forces. But, the impact of trauma goes far beyond the men and women in uniform. In fact, some estimates suggest that up to 70 percent of adults in the U.S. have experienced some type of traumatic event — such as sexual abuse and neglect or disaster experiences — at least once in their lives.

And, that percentage is even higher among people who experience serious mental illness. More than 95 percent of individuals in the mental health system have experienced a traumatic event.

Not everyone who goes through an adverse event will experience it as traumatic. Most people are resilient and will eventually recover, while others will need assistance to recover successfully. A traumatic event could be one that occurred relatively recently such as the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina or the Sandy Hook shootings. Or, it could be an event or series of events that happened earlier in one’s life. In one of the largest studies conducted to examine the effects of childhood maltreatment on health and well-being later in life, the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, researchers found that nearly two-thirds of the study participants reported at least one adverse childhood experience.

But what does trauma do? How does it impact people? In short, trauma can affect every aspect of a person’s life — their physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being.  Symptoms range from headaches and sweating to depression, anxiety and increased use of drugs and alcohol to self-isolation and criminal justice involvement. The ACE study also found that the economic costs of trauma-related alcohol and drug abuse were in the billions; the personal and societal cost is immeasurable.

The good news is that people can and do recover from trauma. Individuals, as well as communities, can learn resiliency skills that will increase their ability to cope with adverse events such as a disaster. Behavioral health organizations are uniquely qualified to promote resilience by first understanding the prevalence and impact of trauma, by using trauma-informed principles and practices and by teaching resiliency skills.

The National Council for Behavioral Health offers an array of services, including an Organization Self-Assessment Tool, to help programs, organizations and systems adopt and improve upon trauma-informed principles and practices.

 

For more information, visit www.thenationalcouncil.org/topics/trauma-informed-care or register for the National Council Conference and/or trauma preconference university to learn more.

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