Understanding Trauma: Types and Effects on Mental Health

Man alone outside

Trauma is a complex experience that affects individuals differently. It’s unclear why this happens, but it’s believed that a combination of genetics, personality and brain chemistry play a role. In other words, it's not just about the events themselves but how those events are processed and experienced by the individual. 

If you or a loved one is experiencing PTSD symptoms, it’s important to know that treatment is available. Seeking help is a crucial part of healing, otherwise, you could turn to substances to cope. If this has already happened, know that it’s possible to recover from both substance use and trauma. Recovery Cove can help you become “whole” again. 

Let’s learn more about the various types of trauma and their potential impacts on mental health.

Types of Trauma

When you experience an event that leaves you feeling threatened, this is considered trauma. You may experience this event directly, or you may witness something else going through it. Either way, it can be equally damaging. The most common types of trauma include: 

Acute trauma

This type of trauma results from a single stressful or dangerous event, such as a natural disaster, sudden loss of a loved one or a violent attack. The impact is immediate and intense, often leading to shock and disbelief.

Chronic trauma

Repeated and prolonged exposure to highly stressful events characterizes chronic trauma. Examples include enduring domestic violence, long-term illness or living in a war-torn region. The cumulative effect of chronic trauma can be particularly damaging to your mental health.

Complex trauma

Complex trauma arises from exposure to multiple traumatic events, often of an invasive, interpersonal nature. This type of trauma is common among those who experience abuse or neglect in childhood, significantly affecting their development and relationships.

Secondary trauma

Also known as vicarious trauma, secondary trauma affects those who are in close contact with trauma survivors, such as therapists, healthcare professionals or loved ones. Hearing about the firsthand trauma experiences of others can lead to similar psychological effects as if they had experienced the trauma themselves.

Effects on Mental Health

The effects of trauma on mental health can vary widely among individuals, depending on factors like the nature of the trauma, personal resilience and the presence of a supportive network. Common mental health issues that may arise include:

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is characterized by intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to your traumatic experiences. These symptoms last long after the traumatic event has ended. Flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety and uncontrollable thoughts about the event are common symptoms.
  • Depression. Trauma can lead to feelings of deep sadness, hopelessness and a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities. These are all hallmark symptoms of depression, and without treatment, can cause you to seek solace in substances.
  • Anxiety disorders. These disorders include panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). You may experience heightened anxiety levels not necessarily related to the traumatic event itself.
  • Substance abuse. As a coping mechanism to numb your pain or escape from your memories, it is possible to turn to drugs or alcohol. Not only do these substances cause problems of their own, but also they can lead to substance abuse disorders.
  • Relationship problems. Trauma can affect trust, intimacy and the ability to form and maintain healthy relationships. It can lead to withdrawal, communication difficulties or even aggressive behavior towards others.

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Navigating the Path to Healing

Understanding the types and effects of trauma is the first step toward healing. Acknowledging the impact of traumatic events on mental health allows you to seek appropriate trauma therapy. Remember that each person is unique and there is no timeline you need to follow to recover. Be patient and give yourself time to heal, as when you do, there won’t be a need to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. This is the best outcome you can ask for. 

Below are some of the most effective ways to treat trauma and stressor-related disorders like PTSD: 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT is based on the concept that thoughts, feelings and behaviors are interconnected, and that changing negative thoughts and behaviors can lead to changes in how we feel. This therapy can help you confront and reframe distressing thoughts about the event, lessening their power over you. Additionally, CBT can help you manage stress, improve your mood and reduce feelings of isolation.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR therapy is an eight-phase treatment that includes the use of eye movements to process traumatic memories, reducing their lingering effects and helping individuals develop healthier ways to cope. EMDR is effective, with most people experiencing some relief in a few sessions. Not only does this therapy help process traumatic memories, but also it can help with changing negative beliefs and improving overall well-being. 

Support groups 

Support groups provide a unique experience for people in healing. By joining one of these groups, you’ll be able to share your experiences and feelings in a safe and supportive environment while also learning coping strategies from others. Furthermore, being part of a supportive group promotes empowerment and healing while reducing stigma and isolation. 

Individual therapy 

Similar to a support group, individual therapy provides a safe space where you can express your thoughts and emotions. However, this therapy is more personalized and encourages you to process your experiences, understand your responses and develop healthy ways to cope. It’s also highly adaptable to your needs. 


While there is no medicine that can treat PTSD directly, there are medications that can improve the symptoms. For instance, antidepressants can lessen symptoms of depression and anxiety, while anti-anxiety medications can relieve severe anxiety. Medications are also available to treat flashbacks, nightmares and insomnia. 

Trauma Therapy for Addiction Treatment in Pennsylvania 

Trauma is a significant but surmountable challenge that many individuals face. With the right understanding, support and intervention, healing is possible. If you or someone you know is struggling with the aftermath of trauma, reaching out for professional help can be a critical first step towards recovery. Contact Recovery Cove at 484-549-COVE to learn more about our approach to treating trauma-related disorders and substance use.