Trauma is defined as the result of an event that is particularly jarring for someone, whether it’s life-threatening or harmful physically or emotionally, and has lasting effects on their psychological health. Mental trauma has a broad definition, and as such, it’s estimated that most people in the United States will experience some degree of trauma in their lives.
Exactly how common is mental trauma? Unlike many other mental health conditions, trauma isn’t considered a single disorder recognized by the current edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM-5. This makes it difficult to measure trauma statistically and, likely, difficult for some people who have experienced trauma to get the help they need.
In this piece, we break down key statistics about mental trauma. How common is it, and is it more likely to affect certain people over others?
What Do We Mean When We Talk About Trauma Stats?
Mental trauma statistics are not as clear as those surrounding depression or anxiety, for example. According to the DSM-5, trauma isn’t an objectively diagnosable psychological condition. That’s not to say the mental health treatment community disregards trauma. Post-traumatic stress disorder, which is a documented condition, often results from mental trauma, but not everyone who experiences trauma develops PTSD.
Mental trauma can result from any traumatic occurrence, including large-scale events like natural disasters and terrorism. However, these causes are less common than personal events like domestic violence, accidents or serious injury, sexual assault, homelessness and a variety of other circumstances that are mentally jarring and may induce trauma.
It should be noted that while physical and mental trauma are different, there can be a connection between the two. For example, if someone suffers a serious injury, this is clearly physical trauma, but traumatic psychological or emotional effects can also be associated with the event that caused the injury.
With this understanding of why psychological trauma statistics are not as clearly outlined as stats for other mental health conditions, let’s explore some of the key stats surrounding mental trauma.
Prevalence of Mental Trauma
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 61% of men and 51% of women report at least one traumatic event in their lifetimes. This would put mental trauma at the top of the list of most-common psychological health conditions. For perspective, these are some of the other most-common mental health disorders, courtesy of the National Alliance on Mental Illness:
- Depression: 7.2% of American adults report having had a major depressive episode.
- Anxiety Disorders: 19.1% of Americans say that they’ve suffered from anxiety at some point in their lives.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: 3.6% of Americans are currently living with PTSD.
The last one is especially notable because PTSD and mental trauma share an obvious link. While PTSD can be objectively diagnosed, among people who experience trauma (50-60%), the rate of those who end up with PTSD (3.6%) is relatively small.
Demographic Factors of Mental Trauma
Statistically, more than half of Americans experience trauma, and, as stated earlier, rates are 10% higher for men than women. Trauma is unique from other mental disorders when it comes to other explanatory factors. While many disorders can be linked to factors like gender and ethnicity, the likelihood of experiencing trauma of any kind is more community-based.
Community Factors of Trauma
Terror events like mass shootings, natural disasters like wildfires and earthquakes, and other traumatic circumstances tend to affect a group of people, often in the same community, at once.
Another factor that leads to trauma as a community-based condition is that risk factors tend to vary on socioeconomic grounds. Impoverished communities are more prone to a large homeless population and lower levels of economic and physical security. Domestic, sexual and general violence rates are higher in low-income communities than they are in more affluent areas.
This doesn’t mean that higher-income areas aren’t at risk for trauma, just that there are fewer community-based factors to predict trauma. There are, of course, traumatic events that are essentially random, like illness and injury, catastrophic accidents and other events that can affect anyone at any time.
However, just because anyone can experience trauma doesn’t mean that everyone will process it in the same way. People with more community support and financial strength are better able to cope with many sources of trauma and have the means to overcome that trauma when it occurs.
Occupational Factors of Trauma
Research finds that people in certain occupations are at a higher risk of experiencing traumatic events. This is certainly true of first responders — firefighters, police officers and EMS workers — who witness violence and death in their careers. Not only are these people at greater risk for trauma, there’s a stigma for some in a “tough” career to seek help, so first responders are also at greater risk of developing PTSD from chronic, unacknowledged trauma.
Health care workers and people who work with at-risk communities — who themselves are at a high risk of experiencing trauma — are also predisposed to traumatic events by their choice of career.
Age Factors of Trauma
Studies show that age isn’t an explanatory factor for trauma, but that younger people have a harder time coping with and moving on from trauma. The category of Adverse Childhood Experiences, known as ACEs, encompasses a variety of different types of childhood trauma, including but not limited to sexual abuse and family violence, neglect, poverty and homelessness.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ACEs are highly explanatory of a person suffering mental and behavioral health disorders later in life.
Trauma Treatment and Deaths
Two areas we tend to talk about with addiction and mental illness is the percentage of individuals who are seeking treatment for a given condition and the deaths caused by the same condition.
With mental trauma, it’s not so black and white. Because trauma isn’t itself a psychological health condition but rather a circumstance that has consequences on a person’s mental health, it’s difficult to say that trauma can cause something to happen. We can, however, talk about the reasons why trauma must be acknowledged to prevent negative consequences like death.
Lack of Treatment and Trauma Suicide Deaths
When a person is traumatized by an event that occurs in their life, they don’t often seek trauma treatment, at least not right away. Severe trauma leads to chronic conditions like toxic stress. Toxic stress leads to depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders that can result in a person taking their own life.
This is why it’s so important to provide support for people suffering as a result of trauma as soon as it occurs. Lack of consistent support — especially for those who can’t afford it — has consequences, both to public health and the cost of health care. If people who undergo trauma can’t get help, they could develop more chronic and costly conditions in the future, putting their long-term wellness and their lives at risk.
Public Opinion About Mental Trauma
We’ve already mentioned the stigma that first responders face when asking for help. The same stigma exists in many minority and low-income communities, who, despite being at higher risk of facing trauma, feel like they don’t have the option to ask for help recovering from it.
Lowering Mental Trauma Stats
What does effective treatment for trauma look like? We won’t go too deep into emerging trauma treatment methods here, but in order to lower the prevalence of trauma, mental health practitioners have come up with solutions. One is called trauma-informed care, in which treatment professionals understand that many cases of addiction and psychological health issues come from situations of trauma and address the underlying cause.
Another method uses specially trained counselors for trauma victims. They’re called Certified Clinical Trauma Professionals, and FHE Health is proud to have CCTPs on staff in our recovery facilities. If you or a loved one is looking for help coping with trauma, contact us today and learn about available options.