Mental Disorders Caused by Trauma and High Stress
Understanding Trauma and Stress Disorders
Trauma and stress disorders are mental health conditions related to the effect that extreme stress or traumatic experience has on a person. There are several different trauma disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder, acute stress disorder and general adjustment disorders. Trauma and stress disorders can affect all ages, all in different ways.
When a person experiences trauma, it can be shocking, painful and difficult to understand. Traumatic events and situations can take their toll on a person for long periods of time and make living a normal life hard to do.
Trauma and stress disorders may be triggered or caused by the following:
- Childhood trauma or neglect
- Physical, emotional or sexual abuse
- Serious health issues
- Childbirth experiences
- Serious accidents
- Physical or sexual assault
- Death or loss of family member or loved one
- Witnessing violence or harm
- Family history or mental illness
Experiences that we don’t categorize as typically traumatizing also have the capacity to affect someone in a traumatic way. Trauma and its aftermath is personal.
What Trauma and Stress Disorders May Look Like
Trauma conditions may overlap with different symptoms and types of anxiety disorders. The following are the most common trauma disorders, but this list is not exhaustive:
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder causes persistent thoughts, memories or flashbacks of a traumatic event or situation. This can trigger intense physical and emotional reactions to trauma from the stressful event they experienced.
People with PTSD symptoms may report insomnia, difficulty concentrating, avoidance of triggering situations, social isolation, depression, headaches, jumpiness or irritability.
Acute Stress Disorder (ASD)
Acute stress disorder is like post-traumatic stress disorder in symptoms, but usually occurs directly after the traumatic situation. People with acute stress disorder may experience symptoms like jumpiness, insomnia, anxiety, depression, irritability or difficulty concentrating within the first month of their trauma. However, if not treated, ASD may develop into PTSD.
Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)
Reactive attachment disorder is described as the lack of emotional reactivity in situations where a reaction would be normal or expected. For children and adolescents, this may look like not feeling remorseful after doing something wrong or a lack of response to both positive and negative triggers. People with RAD may not seek comfort or support from others and may not appear to care when experiencing difficult or traumatic experiences.
Adjustment disorders occur when a person does not properly adapt to changes in their life. While many people may have difficulty during periods of significant transformation or change, those with adjustment disorders have an especially difficult time coping with their emotions. These disorders may trigger symptoms like nervousness, restlessness, insomnia, depression, anxiety or feelings of hopelessness during times of change.
Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder (DSED)
Disinhibited social engagement disorder can present as an openness to interact with strangers. People with DSED often do not respond to social cues or boundaries, and they may engage in physical behaviors (hugs, etc.) with unfamiliar people or in unfamiliar situations. It most commonly occurs in children and makes it difficult for them to develop and sustain emotional bonds. Symptoms may include extroversion, being overly friendly or chatty, behaving in socially unacceptable behavior or ignoring social cues, engaging in impulsive behavior and lacking inhibitions.
The following are general symptoms of trauma and stress related disorders:
- Persistent irritability
- Flashbacks or memories
- Severe anxiety or intense fear
- Emotional detachment
- Intrusive thoughts
- Self-destructive behavior
- Suicidal thoughts
- Social isolation or avoidance of social situations
- Loss of interest in everyday activities
- Feelings of guilt, shame or loneliness
- Panic attacks
Treatment options are dependent on the needs of a person who is experiencing trauma related disorders symptoms. Speaking to a mental health professional is the first step in finding out what might work best for you. Treatment of PTSD may include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – Talk therapy focused on changing negative thoughts and behaviors caused by psychological distress
- Psychotherapy – General talk therapy for mental or behavioral disorders
- Interpersonal therapy – Attachment-focused psychotherapy that focuses on resolving interpersonal issues and easing mental health symptoms
Types of therapy and treatment approaches may be combined in order to meet your needs.
For some, a proper treatment plan may require taking medication. Certain medications are commonly used in those with persistent post-traumatic symptoms. Side effects of medication may vary, and finding the right one may take some trial and error.
There are many kinds of support groups and joining one can have many benefits. Support groups can be a comforting space for those who feel alone in their struggles with mental illness, such as trauma and stress disorders.
Being able to connect with others over a shared behavior or issue can help to lessen the burden and shame. In support group meetings, a person may be able to learn new coping mechanisms and helpful tips from other group members while also building a sense of community.