National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day: Trauma

National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day is nationally sponsored by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and takes place on May 10th 2018. This year’s theme is “Partnering for Health and Hope Following Trauma”

This day will feature the importance of social, emotional, physical, behavioral and mental needs of children and young adults who have endured some form of trauma throughout their lifetime. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH), approximately 20 percent of all children in the Unites States either currently, or at some point in their life, will be diagnosed with a mental health disorder.

Emotional and psychological trauma is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shattered your child’s sense of security, making them feel helpless in a dangerous world. Traumatic experiences often involve a threat to life or safety, but any situation that leaves an individual feeling overwhelmed and isolated can be traumatic, even if it doesn’t involve physical harm. Emotional and psychological trauma can be caused by one-time events such as an accident, an injury, a natural disaster or a violent attack. Emotional and psychological trauma can also be caused by ongoing, relentless stress such as dealing with sexual harassment at work, living in a crime-ridden neighborhood or living with a chronic medical condition. Additionally, common overlooked causes of emotional and psychological trauma include the loss of a loved one, a recent surgery, changing schools, a divorce, a big move or a deeply disappointing experience. Teenagers are more likely to experience trauma if they experienced any from of childhood trauma such as being in an unstable or unsafe environment, being separated from a parent, having a serious childhood illness or undergoing any form of childhood abuse including neglect, physical, verbal and sexual abuse. Untreated or unresolved trauma can result in many mental health disorders that can present in childhood or later in life. Common mental health disorders in children 8-15 years of age order of prevalence include the following:

  • Attention-Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD)
  • Major depression and mood disorders
  • Conduct disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Eating disorders

Eating disorders in childhood

Although eating disorders are technically more common in adults, the average age of onset for anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder and bulimia nervosa is 15 years of age and there are some specific eating disorders such as pica and ARFID that are more common in children than any other age group. Dieting in early childhood is becoming more and more common due to the peer pressure from society and the media that children as young as seven and nine years old are developing anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. The messages about food and weight gain can be emotional and can even be linked to moral clauses, labeling food as either “good food” or “bad food”, potentially creating a perfectionistic outlook on food instead of a balanced outlook.

Treating trauma

Treating a mental illness or an eating disorder in childhood takes time and patience and usually there is an underlying trauma component that must be recognized and resolved before the illness at hand can be treated. Trauma informed care and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) are the primary therapies used to treat individuals with a history of trauma. Once the trauma aspect is recognized and treated then the specific mental health illness can also be treated with psychotherapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy, play therapy, family therapy, and dialectal behavioral therapy.