In today's society, people use the word "trauma" to describe a widely increasing number of events. It seems like anything bothersome to a person is traumatic. The standards of the time seem to make microaggressions, such as watching breaking news or hearing a crude joke, a traumatic event.
What is trauma?
When reflecting on trauma, David J. Ley, Ph.D., a contributor for Psychology Today, says that in the 1970s, researchers discovered similarities in the experiences of rape victims and soldiers, which demonstrated how undergoing a traumatic event alters the psychological and cognitive functioning of an individual profoundly. The changes experienced could reverberate for decades in a person's life if left unmanaged and would impact work performance, relationships, and just about all other aspects of a person's life and overall well-being. However, lax use of the word and overusing it to describe an experience while eluding that something has occurred which has caused moral anguish or emotional stress, could be diluting the nature of what constitutes alarming life events.
In the mental health industry, clinicians are becoming more trauma-informed. Clinicalians are tasked with providing care that first seeks to identify traumatic experiences in their patients' lives. They need to take a better look at their current drug use or emotional problems if they want to connect to traumatic events in the past.
In severe circumstances, patients who experience trauma and are unable to adapt to the reality of the present day receive a diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (or PTSD). Nowadays, the term "trauma" is everywhere you turn—like from partners of sex addicts who feel traumatized by infidelity, for example. Semantically speaking, the translation of trauma has evolved into a description of any unpleasant experience, which for some people, could be the embarrassment of a bad hair day.
Trauma as a Buzzword
A clinician—no matter how poorly trained—probably would not diagnose a patient with PTSD if he or she expressed feeling traumatized by having frizzy, unmanageable hair. However, many incapable clinicians overdiagnose PTSD the moment a client describes a past tragedy, such as abuse or rape. Although non-consensual sex or assault could cause the condition, a diagnosis of PTSD doesn't necessarily work that way.
A diagnosis of PTSD takes a long-running ensemble of symptoms, which include increased physiological arousal, flashbacks, avoidance of stimuli and situations, hypervigilance, extreme physiological reactivity, and changes in perspectives on life, to name a few. Take, for example, the condition of burnout, which professionals now consider a medical condition experienced by many working individuals and students. Mental health problems may be caused by being too tired, but are the things that make you tired traumatic?
A distinction between PTSD is that the experiences that create it are traumatic, with real risk to life and physical integrity. An authentic traumatic experience happens when a person believes his or her life or those close by might end violently or suddenly. It can also be traumatic when a person's ability to maintain his or her physical safety is taken away.
There's another problem with attaching the PTSD or trauma label to a patient or event. There is significant research that shows that when a clinician tells a patient that he or she must have been traumatized by something, the patient then believes him or herself to be wounded and disordered. The response to that perception is a change in behavior, in which the patient acts as if damaged.
Trauma may be a buzz word, but it's far more than a terminological trend. Describing sadness and misfortune as trauma—as many psychiatrists and the culture at large do—redefines the experience. However, many will agree that mental distress can be just as detrimental as physical injury. In some cases, physical harm can cause psychological anguish, like, for example, a workers' comp claim justifying the onset of severe anxiety caused by a harmful accident at the workplace. As grave and painful as that may be, would the experience deserve classification as traumatic?
It could be said that just about any event given the label of trauma transforms the experience into a catastrophe, and people aren't able to move past the experience—feeling broken and helpless. At one point, professionals recognized a traumatic event as an experience not within the scope of usual human occurrences, so extreme as to bring about considerable distress symptoms in just about everyone. Now, members of the mental health industry have concerns over the medicalizing of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is the "psychiatry bible." The belief is that, by construct, the DSM turns many seemingly ordinary human experiences into psychiatric disorders.
Trauma-Informed Care and Mental Health
There have been psychological shifts in perception that make trauma a means of explaining life's problems as the fault of someone else. People have adopted a belief that their lives are not within their control, which is why there has been such a sociocultural embracing of the term "trauma" or "traumatized" to label people's misery, stress, and misfortune. Over time, more frequent identification of people as victims of harm has become the norm. It is thereby leading society and mental health professionals to view innocuous or unharmful mild conditions as psychiatric problems needing outside intervention.
People's responses to experiences are all in the way they interpret them. Concerning the state of mental health in the country, by explaining adversity as trauma, it makes things seem overwhelming. There are likely to be lasting effects, and people become broken—feeling things to be calamitous.
Generation Z, for example, is said to experience more stress than any other generation due to increased gun violence, social media, and sexual harassment at schools, among other things. Researchers say these stressors have a direct impact on their mental health. This group is worried about chronic stress, which is causing them to feel more anxious and sad.
Unlike physical ailments, mental illness does not have clear and valid tests. In general, people need to find ways to cope with stress—not just pressure related to trauma. Trauma-informed treatment must fully comprehend the social effects, neurological, psychological, and biological effects of trauma. Human behavior is complicated and people's needs, strengths, resources, and problems need a holistic approach to determine the intervention that will help the most.