The Relationship Between Trauma and Depression

Reading Time: 3 Minutes

Trauma is the Greek word for “wound” and the Merriam Webster definition of trauma is:

A: an injury (such as a wound) to living tissue caused by an extrinsic agent

B: a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury

C: an emotional upset

As a society, we often associate trauma with physical harm such as sexual assault, domestic violence, and physical abuse; however, trauma comes in many different forms that can take deep root into an individual’s being affecting their entire future. Childhood neglect, foster children, verbal abuse, schoolyard bullying, gaslighting, witnessing a natural disaster, a life-threatening medical condition, or witnessing a violent act are all forms of trauma. These can all result in feelings of hopelessness, fear, anger, insecurity, and confusion that can become deeply rooted in the subconscious mind. Often many individuals who have experienced past trauma will not be affected until later in life; when they enter into a new relationship or have a child of their own. Individuals may even develop negative coping skills such as a substance abuse disorder or an eating disorder as a way to cope with their past traumatic experiences without even realizing these disorders developed because of their past trauma.

Signs and symptoms of emotional/psychological trauma

Emotional/psychological trauma can cause severe physical, cognitive, and emotional signs and symptoms that include the following:

  • Aches and pains
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in weight
  • Nightmares
  • Racing heartbeat (palpitations)
  • Chronic, unexplained pain such as headaches
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory lapses
  • Easily distractibility
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Feelings of fearfulness
  • Feeling out of control
  • Feelings of anger and resentment
  • Compulsive behaviors
  • Feelings of guilt or shame
  • Withdrawal from others
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Feelings of being mentally trapped

How do I know if trauma is responsible for my depression?

Trauma, in most cases, is at the root of many mental health disorders. Traumatic events are closely tied to anxiety, depression, eating disorders, substance abuse disorders, and specific traumatic disorders such as PTSD or acute stress disorder. If you are experiencing signs and symptoms of a mental health disorder, it is always essential for both you and your therapist to talk about any potential traumatic triggers in your life, even if they are not that apparent to you. A divorce, childhood trauma, death in the family, emotional abuse, or a life-threatening accident can have the same emotional and traumatic mental effects on an individual. It can result in depression or another mental health disorder.

PTSD and depression: when one mimics the other

PTSD and depression often go hand-in-hand, and their symptoms often overlap. A study on Vietnam veterans performed 40 years after the war, published in 2015, JAMA Psychiatry, found that about a third of those who had PTSD also had major depressive symptoms. Symptoms of depression include feelings of guilt, sadness, difficulty sleeping, and headaches. Symptoms of PTSD and depression that often co-occur together include trouble concentrating, difficulty sleeping, loss of interest, avoidance of social contacts, irritability, and drug and alcohol abuse. Another similarity between PTSD and depression is that both disorders are treated with the same medications. The two medications that are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are sertraline (Zoloft) and paroxetine (Paxil), which are antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs are first-line medications used to treat depression. Psychotherapy approaches are also crucial in treating both trauma and depression, and usually, these differ between PTSD and depression; however, some psychotherapy techniques may overlap.

However, PTSD and depression do differ in terms of causation and timing. PTSD occurs after a traumatic event, and depression can take hold of an individual without any warning or underlying triggers.

AKUA Mind and Body treatment

AKUA Mind and Body is a full-service treatment program that offers a wide range of “east meets west” treatment modalities for many different populations struggling with depression and other mental health and substance use disorders. AKUA Mind and Body treats co-occurring disorders and works diligently with each client and their family to ensure that treatment is specifically tailored to their needs, and not just their disorder.

AKUA Mind and Body offers detoxification, intensive treatment programs, and outpatient treatment programs. AKUA Mind and Body uses a blend of holistic approaches combined with evidence-based treatment to help individuals who have been affected by depression to recognize their underlying triggers and develop healthy coping skills. Regardless of where you are in your recovery process, AKUA Mind and Body can help.

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