An Integrated Health Approach to Help Young Adults Impacted by Traumatic Events

When young adults experience trauma at one or more times in their lives, there is an impact on their health, both mental and physical. Their ability to cope with day-to-day life is affected, and their future experiences can be overwhelming. Young adults who have experienced trauma can be helped by those they love, as well as care specialists and physicians, through an integrated health approach that creates a safe environment in which they can work through their difficulties in the wake of trauma.

What types of trauma impact youth and young adults?

Trauma is the long-term psychological response to an experience that deeply distresses or disturbs an individual. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 46 percent of children and youth in the US have experienced some form of trauma. There are many different types of traumatic events, and what is traumatic can vary from individual to individual. The most common categories of trauma include: natural disasters, such as floods or hurricanes; witnessing or experiencing sexual, physical, or emotional abuse; deaths of loved ones; witnessing or experiencing community violence; and experiencing severe or life-threatening illness.

Because individuals experience trauma in different ways, there are three major types of trauma: complex trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and developmental trauma disorder.

Complex trauma is trauma that occurs repeatedly over a period of time, either sporadically or on a regular basis. It is interpersonal, meaning it is harm done by one person to another. It also often occurs during important developmental periods of an individual’s life, such as childhood or adolescence, but it can occur at any point of vulnerability in a person’s life. This trauma can result from the same event experienced over and over, or from an escalation of trauma over time. Traumatic events leading to complex trauma are severe, threatening the immediate physical or emotional integrity of the individual. Complex trauma often occurs between family or community members, or the people an individual has contact with periodically over time. Physical abuse and neglect are examples of complex traumatic events, as well as multiple deployments in military service.

Post-traumatic stress disorder can occur as a result of experiencing one or a few isolated traumatic events. Shootings, car crashes, military deployment, and sexual assault are examples of traumatic events that may cause PTSD. Though a traumatic event will have a short-term impact on most people, PTSD symptoms can last for much longer and may increase in severity, interfering with an individual’s daily life. PTSD symptoms may appear years after the traumatic event. The way an individual’s PTSD presents can also change over time.

Developmental trauma disorder occurs when young children experience trauma during critical developmental periods, which affects brain development in significant ways, and creates symptoms that can affect someone into adulthood. This is different from PTSD because the trauma can appear to be less severe, or occur as adversity experienced over time rather than events in isolation. It’s also different from complex trauma because complex trauma requires that the traumatic event be threatening to their life or well-being in the moment. Events such as traumatic loss (sudden death of someone close), psychological or emotional abuse, and neglect in childhood are examples of developmental traumas.

What does trauma look like?

Because everyone handles trauma differently, it can be difficult to recognize signs and symptoms of trauma. Two individuals who are experiencing PTSD, for example, may show completely different symptoms but still have the same diagnosis. Therefore, understand that context is extremely important in determining trauma symptoms in any individual. In general, though, there are many symptoms of trauma that can combine in different ways. Here are some symptoms of trauma that are common in young adults:

  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Difficulty concentrating at school or work
  • Nightmares, insomnia, or other sleep issues
  • Disruptive or dangerous behavior
  • Use of alcohol or drugs
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
  • Feelings of guilt, anger, embarrassment, anxiety, sadness, or apathy
  • Changes in eating patterns; losing or gaining appetite
  • Development of new fears
  • Extreme emotional or physical distress in situations that recall the trauma
  • Thoughts or acts of self-harm or suicide

In some cases, these symptoms can co-occur with those of other disorders, such as depression or anxiety. Other symptoms may be difficult to recognize, or may be hidden by the individual experiencing them. An open and judgement-free line of communication between the individual and someone they can trust is essential in helping them work through the impacts of trauma.

If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of self-harm or suicide, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) for immediate help.

What can help young adults cope with trauma?

When someone experiences trauma, they may feel very alone or misunderstood. An important part of helping them through trauma is creating an environment in which they feel safe to express their emotions and thoughts. For young adults who have experienced trauma, this can mean assuring them that their feelings are valid, and that they do not need to feel worried or embarrassed expressing themselves. They may ask a lot of questions, or not want to talk about the trauma at all.

Another way to help young adults through trauma is to just spend time with them, and try engaging them in positive activities like sports, art, games, and other hobbies they typically have enjoyed in the past. Individuals experiencing trauma may not have an interest in picking up things they enjoy, so encouragement to do so from people who care about them can take their minds off of their trauma, bring some calm to their day, or help them to feel safer sharing their experiences with someone.

Encouraging adequate rest through a sleep schedule and a safe, comfortable environment can help those affected by trauma cope with and overcome symptoms involving sleep. Creating a meal schedule, providing healthy meals, and supporting individuals during meal time can help in coping with changes in appetite and preventing insufficient nutrition. Encouraging counseling, support groups, journaling, and exercise are all helpful ways to support young adults impacted by traumatic events as well. Implementing and creating a positive, healthy schedule can bring stability and reliability to individuals experiencing trauma, making them feel safe and secure.

Young adults impacted by traumatic events can best be helped overall through a trauma-informed, integrated health approach.

What is a trauma-informed integrated health approach?

According to the ABA Center on Children and the Law and youth.gov, trauma-informed care is a combination of psychological and physiological interventions that treats the underlying causes of trauma symptoms, rather than the symptoms alone, delivered by care professionals that recognize and respond to trauma symptoms.

A trauma-informed integrated health approach is built on a foundation of safety, trust, transparency, collaboration, empowerment, choice, and cultural context. In such an approach, the individual’s strengths are built up to support resilience and self-motivated recovery through the help of those in their support system. Trauma-informed integrated approaches build a community around the person impacted by trauma, and the support of all involved increases the ability of the individual to succeed in working healthily through trauma.

Creating a safe environment is the first essential step in providing a trauma-informed health approach. The person’s setting and interpersonal relationships must be physically and emotionally safe for that individual. While this can sometimes be the individual’s or family member’s home, it can also mean a recovery facility or inpatient care. Even small environmental factors such as smell or sound can trigger traumatic memories.

Because the impacts of traumatic experiences differ for individuals, understanding each person’s specific needs is the next important step in determining the best integrated approach in their care. A young adult’s resilience and stability relies heavily on their individual strengths, and understanding those strengths will provide the basis for a positive treatment outcome.

Integrated health approach at New Vitae

New Vitae Wellness and Recovery serves individuals impacted by traumatic events by promoting hope, health, and wellness in a safe environment conducive to building an integrated health approach. For individuals aged 18 to 25, New Vitae’s young adult services provide strength-based approaches to building resilience and wellness. Through these services, young adults are encouraged and supported in working toward personal growth and success in working through their trauma.

New Vitae offers a range of trauma-informed interventions that can help young adults through individualized integrated health approaches, such as residential choices, providing a safe environment to begin an integrated health approach, life skill development and symptom management that help them work toward empowered independent living, and educational opportunities that help those impacted by trauma work to build and maintain a fulfilling life.

Young adults impacted by traumatic events deserve to feel safe and heard as they work toward emotional fulfillment and success. New Vitae is dedicated to helping you or your loved one impacted by traumatic experiences.

To find out more about New Vitae’s young adult services and take your first step in trauma recovery, contact us online or by phone 610-965-9021 today.

"As a licensed clinical social worker and a certified advanced alcohol and drug counselor I am extremely proud to be a fellow team member at New Vitae Wellness and Recovery."

- David S. (Psychotherapist and Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor)