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Trauma is defined as any type of distressing event or experience that can have an impact on a person’s ability to cope and function. Childhood trauma can be defined as “abuse (such as sexual or physical), witnessing domestic violence, neglect, accidents, chronic or sudden medical illness, a death in the family or parental illness, substance use, divorce, or incarceration.” Any experience that threatens an adolescent’s sense of security and leaves a young person feeling overwhelmed and isolated can be traumatic. Data indicates that one in four children living in the United States experiences a traumatic event before reaching adulthood. Early childhood experiences play a large role in how the brain develops and functions. A report from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University asserts that childhood trauma can derail healthy development and cause damaging effects on learning, behavior, and health across the lifespan.

Mental Health & Trauma

The World Health Organization (WHO) explains mental health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” Psychology Today asserts that untreated trauma has the propensity to cause permanent changes in the brain, producing corresponding shifts in intelligence, emotional reactivity, happiness, sociability, and more, all of which directly impact a teen’s mental health. To illuminate the impact of trauma on teenage mental health more clearly, consider the following common examples of general symptoms that are typical for children and adolescents who have experienced traumatic events:

  • Mood alterations such as irritability, sadness, anger, etc.
  • Regressed behaviors.
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed pastimes (e.g., school, friends, hobbies, etc.).
  • Academic decline.
  • Substance abuse.
  • Self-imposed social isolation.
  • Pervasive and intrusive thoughts or unwanted imagery from the traumatic event.
  • Disturbed sleeping patterns.
  • Depression.
  • Cognitive decline, including difficulties with short-term memory, concentration, and problem solving.
  • Irrational reactions to minor irritations.
  • Diminished personal hygiene practices.
  • Decreased motivation.
  • Neglect responsibilities (e.g., miss school, fail to honor previously made commitments, etc.).

Experiencing trauma can interfere with a teenager’s cognitive and social development. Untreated trauma can have a profound impact on an adolescent’s mental health, and lead to an array of adverse health effects such as maladaptive coping skills, poor stress management, unhealthy lifestyles, mental illness, and physical disease.

For Information and Support 

Every family in need of mental health treatment must select a program that will best suit the needs of their family. When one member of a family struggles, it impacts everyone in the family unit. To maximize the benefits of treatment we work closely with the entire family to ensure that everyone is receiving the support they need through these difficult times. Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know needs mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person’s life, long term. Pursuing support at the beginning of one’s journey can put the individual in the best position to learn how to manage themselves in a healthy way so they can go on to live happy and fulfilling lives.


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