How Traumatic Events Impact Lives

Before the age of eighteen, it is reported that every person has experienced at least one traumatic event, whether that event is one-time, multiple, or long-lasting repetitive event. The adolescent years are when coping skills are developed, and when there are changes in cognition and biological function, yet the responses to these traumatic events vary by person. The responses, positive or negative, are believed to be based on the life factors of that individual. Some of these factors include: age at the time of the traumatic event, their gender, their mental stability before the event occurred, the stage of life that they are in, the accessibility of natural supports, and their previously established coping methods.

Traumatic events can be best described as an incident that causes physical, emotional, spiritual, and psychological harm. Often times the person who is experiencing a traumatic event may feel threatened, anxious, or frightened as a result of the event. There are many examples of traumatic events, a few of them being road accidents, violence/prolonged abuse, natural disasters, and or serious illnesses.

The impact of a serious trauma can be very subtle, insidious, or even outright destructive.

When someone experiences a traumatic event, the body will have many natural responses to the event. Often times there are no visible signs of the responses, but people tend to have very serious emotional reactions. The natural responses to a traumatic event cannot be controlled by the person who is experiencing the traumatic event because these responses are triggered by our flight or fight response system within our body.

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The flight or fight response is a reflexive nervous system phenomenon within our bodies that is meant to be an evolutionary advantage, but when a traumatic event is experienced, it can create a stress response. The bodies fight or flight response method often makes people experience a variety of physical symptoms, people tend to behave differently, and often experience more intense emotions. Some manifestations of the fight or flight response are: raised blood pressure, increased heart rate, increased amounts of sweating and reduced stomach activity, which often times is accompanied by a loss of appetite. The reactions occurring are a very natural response to a very unnatural event. Shortly after the initial flight or fight response, the body often times goes into shock or denial. After many traumatic events people will often feel numb or detached, shock and denial are often used to protect oneself from the emotional impact of the event.

Connections between physical conditions and traumatic events

It is well established the lifetime traumatic events often correlate with chronic physical health conditions, but it has not been made clear if the physical health conditions are caused by the traumatic events or if they are unrelated. A study was conducted that aimed to answer the questions of if traumatic stress is directly linked to physical ill-health and if certain types of trauma were worse than others in regards to their effects. Consequently, another area of interest was the relationship between how many traumatic life events occurred and the physical health issues that followed. Pertaining to the United States, 9,282-people above the age of eighteen participated in survey, and of those people, 17.1% reported five or more traumatic events occuring in their lives. 22.8% reported at least one traumatic event, and in total 79.4% reported having any number of traumatic events occur in their lives. Of the 9,282-people surveyed, 5.9% reported being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Compared to other countries surveyed, America had the second highest rate of PTSD, right behind Northern Ireland with an 8.9% of reported PTSD in the 4,340-people surveyed. Each country surveyed did not have the same number of participants, but in total, 70,345-people were surveyed. Of those people 66.4% had experienced at least one traumatic event and 3.5% have PTSD as a result of those events.

Information was collected on other diagnoses of mental health disorders, and diagnoses of chronic physical conditions. Specific information was also required, such as the year these occurred, onset of symptoms, and diagnosis. This allowed the analysis to examine several aspects: if there was an association between traumatic events and physical conditions, if the associations changed based on the type and the frequency of the traumatic events, if the variation was determined by the physical condition, and if they vary across countries. Two groups for each country were used, the first group contained everyone that participated in the study, the second group, the sub-group, only contained participants that met criteria for any mental disorder. To determine if participants met the criteria for a mental disorder, the definitions and criteria of the DSM-IV were used. The results for the number of traumatic events in correlation to any physical health conditions determined that all were “modestly” associated with increased risks for chronic physical health conditions, exceptions for combat or war experiences, which had a decreased risk of outcome.

Traumatic Experiences in Adolescents

The experience of traumatic life events in an individual’s childhood may potentially be more significant than experiencing the same event as an adult. At young ages they may lack the foundation of coping skills and rational thinking. Experiencing abandonment, abuse, violent behavior, or any form of exploitation as an adolescent puts them at a higher risk of developing a mental health disorder as a result of the traumatic experience. A study was conducted with 422 volunteer adolescents, they were initially asked a series of three questions. What their traumatic experience was, if they told someone about it, and if that person they told was someone that was a teacher, parent, or psychologist. They used the DSM-IV to assess the presence of PTSD in the children, who were in the age range 8-18. They evaluated the children for any intrusive thoughts about the experience, and any avoidance with the answers. An analyzation was done to determine the effect of re-experiencing the trauma, and to determine if there was a difference depending on how long they discussed the traumatic event.

The results showed that 324 children had experienced some form of traumatic event. In the group of children who had disclosed to someone previously about their trauma, (233) 25.85% had diagnosed PTSD, 7.8% with anxiety, and 5.56% having depression. In the children who did not disclose previously, (76) 26.11% had PTSD, a much larger percentage from a smaller group. While the percentage of avoidance and intrusion also remained close to the group of children who did disclose, the standard deviation was significantly lower. There was not a major difference in the prevalence of PTSD with the different lengths of time the children talked about their trauma. The study concluded that telling a trusted adult significantly reduced the occurrence of PTSD in the children, but the length of time they talked about it did not have an effect on the number of children that developed PTSD.


Traumatic events affect every person differently, the type of event, if the event is prolonged or repetitive, the age of the person, previous experiences, all factor into how the person will respond, and more importantly, the lasting effects it will have on them. A child who has not developed ways to deal with difficult situations will be more at risk of developing a mental disorder than an adult experiencing the same event who has developed healthy coping mechanisms. If a person already had a mental disorder, they are more likely to develop another, or develop a physical health condition in response to a new traumatic event. An individual that experiences a traumatic event several times is at an even greater risk of developing a mental disorder in response to the event, and someone who has not developed proper coping skills will benefit from speaking with someone who has.

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How Traumatic Events Impact Lives. (2022, Feb 17). Retrieved from

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