Mental illness and trauma often walk hand-in-hand

Mental Health Awareness Month takes place every May, which makes it a good time to explore the connections between mental illness and trauma, especially as it relates to children.

Research has shown that traumatic experiences are associated with both behavioral health and chronic physical health conditions, especially those traumatic events that occur during childhood. Substance use, mental health conditions, and other risky behaviors have been linked with traumatic experiences. Because these behavioral health concerns can present challenges in relationships, careers, and other aspects of life, we need to understand the nature and impact of trauma so we can help kids heal.

Research also indicates that individuals with serious mental illness are more likely to be victimized because of the functional impairments that can be associated with acute episodes of mental illness. Incidents of victimization can exacerbate their symptoms of mental illness and result in their traumatization.

In child welfare, we often encounter children that have been exposed to traumatic events and caregivers that are poorly prepared to properly respond to their needs. Sometimes the actions (or inactions) of caregivers contribute to the child’s trauma. A child’s trauma symptoms typically resemble childhood mental disorders, thus resulting in treatment strategies that manage mental illness but fail to relieve the impact of trauma.

“When children experience trauma, it resembles a devastating storm ravaging the tender growth of a young tree, stripping branches of leaves and leaving scars that tell a story for years to come,” said Katie Pembleton, SFM clinical director for research and implementation. “Each traumatic event can disrupt the natural progression of brain development, shaping responses and behaviors into protective yet often counterproductive patterns that deeply affect mental health. Our goal is to foster resilience by establishing deliberate connections through trauma-informed approaches, ultimately enhancing the mental health and overall well-being of those we serve.”

Picture of Shane Schneider
Shane Schneider

Shane is the Editorial Content Manager for the Marketing and Communications Department at Saint Francis Ministries.

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