National Council for Mental Wellbeing

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March 14, 2018

Joy Burwell
(202) 748-8789

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Sunday, Oprah Winfrey and 60 Minutes underscored the impact of trauma in our world.

“What’s the difference between a really bad childhood and being able to overcome that, and a traumatic childhood and someone not being able to overcome that?” Oprah asked during the segment. By looking at the lasting effects of childhood trauma, like physical or sexual abuse, neglect or family dysfunction, she introduced the concept of trauma-informed care, calling it “a revolutionary approach spreading across the country.”

Trauma-informed care is not new to the National Council for Mental Wellbeing. For the past seven years, our trauma-informed trainings and consultations have led to sustained practice change within more than 700 organizations, including schools.

With more than 40 percent of children in the U.S. experiencing at least one or more traumatic event – also known as an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) – we understand the effects of trauma and why creating a supportive environment is critical to both social development and learning.

As Oprah emphasized, what we experience as children is a powerful predictor of our mental and physical condition in adulthood. More than half of women in publicly-funded treatment for substance use or serious emotional disorders report a history of trauma, with their abuse most commonly occurring in childhood. The good news is there are evidence-based trauma-specific interventions.

Oprah highlighted the Milwaukee-based programs at SaintA and the Nia Imani Family Center where trauma-informed care goes beyond individual treatment. At the National Council when we’ve introduced trauma-informed approaches across the U.S., we’ve seen impressive results. In schools, students and teachers collaborate on expectations for behavior and create plans to promote those behaviors. Then, students are taught the skills needed to master their emotions. When expectations are not met, teachers help students learn from their mistakes and in turn teachers are supported in this work by administrators and parents. As a result, Burchell High School in Alaska saw a 66 percent drop in referrals for problem behaviors just one year after implementing trauma-informed classrooms. Schools nationwide are adopting these approaches and realizing positive change.

“It comes down to the question of not, ‘What’s wrong with you? What’s wrong with that kid? Why is he behaving like that,’ to, ‘What happened to you?’” said Oprah.

It’s time we recognize the impact of trauma and change our response to “What happened to you?” Let’s implement trauma-informed approaches not just in our schools, but in our work, our communities and our everyday life.

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The National Council for Mental Wellbeing is the unifying voice of America’s health care organizations that deliver mental health and addictions treatment and services. Together with our 2,900 member organizations serving over 10 million adults, children and families living with mental illnesses and addictions, the National Council is committed to all Americans having access to comprehensive, high-quality care that affords every opportunity for recovery. The National Council introduced Mental Health First Aid USA and more than 1 million Americans have been trained.