A new SAMHSA Report highlights the correlation of exposure to traumatic events, the occurrence of post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS), and negative health and behavioral health outcomes. This report was developed from a study on the characteristics of adults exposed to potentially traumatic events (PTEs) and adults who had PTSS, and their association with health and behavioral health conditions.

The study found that adults exposed to PTEs tended to be older, veterans, and non-Hispanic white. It also found that they tended to have other health conditions, such as asthma, high blood pressure, sinusitis, ulcer, and doctor-diagnosed anxiety and depression. Those exposed to one or more PTEs were more likely to engage in illicit drug use, binge drinking, and heavy drinking and have substance use disorders, than adults who had not experienced PTEs. Similarly, those who had experienced PTEs were more likely to have  mental illness, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), serious psychological distress, major depressive episodes, and suicidal thoughts in the past year. This study is important because trauma exposure and PTSD are associated with significant social, personal, and economic costs.

At the same time, exposure to potentially traumatic events does not always result in negative outcomes for all people. It’s important to identify factors that may decrease the risk of developing PTSS or PTSD. SAMHSA’s report may aid in its efforts to identify prevention, treatment, and recovery and resiliency support approaches, services, and interventions that better address the trauma-related needs of adults with or at risk for behavioral health and health challenges.

The Correlates of Lifetime Exposure to One or More Potentially Traumatic Events and Subsequent Posttraumatic Stress among Adults in the United States: Results from the Mental Health Surveillance Study, 2008-2012 report is based on data from the Mental Health Surveillance Study of SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

One Survivor’s Story: David Washington 

David WOne Survivor's Story - David Washingtonashington’s life experiences put a face on the report findings and make a compelling case to focus on prevention, treatment, and support for post-traumatic growth and health. His experience of sexual assault at age seven and resulting traumatic exposure as a victim witness in his offender’s criminal prosecution, had ripple effects on his health and welfare, spanning decades until he found help to facilitate his healing and wellbeing.

These events contributed to compulsive substance use as a coping mechanism to relieve the posttraumatic stress symptoms with serious consequences, including blackouts, binge drinking, withdrawal, and tolerance. In addition to substance use, David also experienced some serious health concerns, such as respiratory issues, asthma attacks, high blood pressure, obesity, and stomach issues, where he was in and out of the emergency room and urgent care.

Wanting to get to a better place, David entered a support group. Six months into his recovery, actively working in a 12-Step program, the symptoms of PTSD had become so intense that he needed the help of a trauma-informed in-patient treatment program in Florida. In this environment that promoted respect and safety, he was able to talk about the rape and sexual abuse. He completed in-patient treatment, worked with a private out-patient therapist, and found healing with his faith community. He began to make the connection between his medical conditions and the deeper psychological connections to the trauma he experienced, and began healing at a deeper level.

David Washington - Presenting for SAMHSAHis own healing led him to explore trauma-informed substance abuse treatment and he now uses his own experiences to inform his work as an advocate for preventing and responding to trauma. He travels throughout the country sharing his personal story and how trauma-informed care can assist people to live healthy and productive lives. David regularly works as a consultant to and trainer for SAMHSA’s National Center for Trauma-Informed Care and Alternatives to Seclusion and Restraint.

He recently completed the Train-the-trainer program in Albany NY through SAMHSA’s GAINS Center for Behavioral Health and Justice Transformation. He also works with other organizations to promote the effective treatment of men with addiction disorders by urging providers to recognize the importance of addressing trauma.

David’s story illustrates the importance of promoting safety and preventing trauma, and promoting healing, trauma-informed support, recovery, and resilience when trauma does occur.

Resources

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