Family Resources

  • Trauma and Traumatic Events

    What Is Trauma?
    People often use the word “trauma” to refer to a traumatic event. A trauma is a scary, dangerous, or violent event that can happen to anyone. Not all dangerous or scary events are traumatic events, however.

    What Is a Traumatic Event?
    traumatic event is a scary, dangerous, or violent event. An event can be traumatic when we face or witness an immediate threat to ourselves or to a loved one, often followed by serious injury or harm. We feel terror, helplessness, or horror at what we are experiencing and at our inability to stop it or protect ourselves or others from it.

    Often people feel bad after a trauma. Even though we try hard to keep children safe, dangerous events still happen. This danger can come from outside of the family (such as a natural disaster, car accident, school shooting, or community violence) or from within the family, such as a serious injury, domestic violence, physical or sexual abuse, or the unexpected death of a loved one.     

    What Is Child Traumatic Stress?
    When a child has had one or more traumatic events, and has reactions that continue and affect his or her daily life long after the events have ended, we call it Child Traumatic Stress. Children may react by becoming very upset for long periods, depressed, or anxious. They may show changes in the way they behave, or in their eating and sleeping habits; have aches and pains; have difficulties at school, problems relating to others, or not want to be with others or take part in activities. Older children may use drugs or alcohol, behave in risky ways, or engage in unhealthy sexual activity.

    Do Traumatic Events Happen Often?
    The number of traumatic events varies. For example, between 25% and 43% of children are exposed to sexual abuse; between 39% and 85% of children witness community violence. And more than half of children report experiencing a traumatic event by age 16 (Presidential Task Force on PTSD and Trauma in Children and Adolescents, 2008).

    Fortunately, even when children experience a traumatic event, they don’t always develop traumatic stress. Many factors contribute to symptoms including whether they have experienced trauma in the past (see section on Understanding Trauma for more information).

    What Experiences Might Be Traumatic?  

    When children have been in situations where they feared for their lives, believed that they would be injured, witnessed violence, or tragically lost a loved one, they may show signs of child traumatic stress.

    (Information obtained from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network: http://www.nctsn.org/resources/audiences/parents-caregivers)

    Coping with Traumatic Events

    Youth Suicide Prevention

    What are the factors that contribute to youth suicide?

    Youth suicide is a complex issue. A combination of personal, family, and community factors contribute to the risk of suicide. Risk factors are characteristics that make it more likely that individuals will consider, attempt, or die by suicide. They include:

    • Family history of suicide
    • Family history of child abuse
    • Previous suicide attempt(s)
    • History of mental disorders, particularly clinical depression
    • History of alcohol and substance abuse
    • Feelings of hopelessness
    • Impulsive or aggressive tendencies
    • Cultural and religious beliefs (e.g., belief that suicide is a noble resolution of a personal dilemma)
    • Local clusters of suicide
    • Isolation, a feeling of being cut off from other people
    • Barriers to accessing mental health treatment
    • Loss (relationships, work, or financial)
    • Physical illness
    • Easy access to lethal methods (e.g. firearms)
    • Unwillingness to seek help because of the stigma attached to mental health and substance abuse disorders or to suicidal thoughts

    (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Suicide: Risk and Protective Factors: www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide/riskprotectivefactors.html)

    What are the warning signs of youth suicide?

    If you are concerned about your child, ask yourself the following questions. Has your son or daughter shown or shared any of the following:

    1.  Talk about wanting to die, be dead, or about suicide, or are they cutting or burning themselves?
    2. Feeling like things may never get better, seeming like they are in terrible emotional pain (like something is wrong deep inside but they can’t make it go away), or they are struggling to deal with a big loss in their life?
    3. Or is your gut telling you to be worried because they have withdrawn from everyone and everything, have become more anxious or on edge, seem unusually angry, or just don’t seem normal to you?

    (Youth Suicide Warning Signs: www.youthsuicidewarningsigns.org/healthcare-professionals)

    Suicide Prevention Resources