Can Childhood Trauma Be the Cause of My Depression?
Childhood trauma is extremely damaging and can lead to lifelong issues for physical and mental health. Trauma in childhood is not rare. Statistics show that it is more common than most people realize. Many adults who struggle with relationships, self-esteem, and mental illnesses like depression may find out that trauma experienced at a young age contributed to these issues. But childhood trauma does not have to be a life sentence. With intensive residential care it is possible to recognize, process, and learn to cope with past trauma while also learning to manage current mental health challenges.
Trauma in childhood has a ripple effect on the rest of your life. If you never recognize the experiences and process them in a safe and productive way, you may have mental health issues well into adulthood. Early trauma is often at the root of mental illness. If you are struggling with depression now, as an adult, it is definitely possible that experiences in your childhood are contributing to it, if not causing it.
There is hope for your future, though.
Trauma-focused, comprehensive, and professional treatment can help you reach in to your past so you can heal in the present.
What Is Childhood Trauma?
No matter when it occurs, trauma is an emotional response rather than an event. It is a response to something that happened to you or that you witnessed happening to someone else. The trauma-inducing event may have been life-threatening or frightening, or it may have threatened your physical or emotional security. Trauma can result from something that happened once or an ongoing series of experiences.
Trauma refers to the emotional experience rather than the actual event, because people respond to difficult events in different ways. A terrible experience, like a bad car accident, may cause an extended traumatic response in one person, while another person involved recovers quickly.
For children, trauma often builds over time as the result of repeated experiences. Some examples of traumatic events that children may be exposed to include:
- Domestic violence
- Physical or sexual abuse
- Community violence
- Natural disasters
- Medical trauma, including chronic or terminal illness
- Grief-related trauma from losing loved ones
Did I Suffer from Childhood Trauma?
Whether or not you have experienced trauma can be difficult to answer. If you experienced any events or situations with the potential to cause trauma, it is certainly possible and even likely. The statistics regarding childhood trauma paint an unfortunate picture, one that demonstrates how many children really go through it and suffer as a result:
- Over two-thirds of all children in the U.S. report having experienced at least one event by the age of 16 that was potentially traumatic.
- More than nine in 1,000 children are victimized by physical abuse or have been neglected.
- Over 54 percent of U.S. families have experienced a disaster of some kind.
- Twenty percent of high school students have been bullied.
- Nearly 20 percent of children who have suffered physical injuries have post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Among children between the ages of 12 and 17, eight percent have been sexually assaulted, 17 percent have been physically assaulted, and nearly 40 percent witnessed violence.
If you have been through any potentially traumatic event early in life, you may have experienced trauma. The risk that you had a traumatic response to such events increases if they were repeated. For instance, if you were physically abused once, your risk of being traumatized is lower than if you were repeatedly abused.
The Consequences of Childhood Trauma
Many studies over the years have determined that the consequences of early trauma are wide-reaching and long-lasting. Trauma that occurred when you were a child happened at a time when your brain was still developing. Even as a teenager, your brain still had room to grow and develop. Trauma can disrupt that growth and cause lasting harm.
This harm begins at the most basic, biological levels. Researchers have found that trauma changes how the brain and body reacts to stress and the production of hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain. These changes are to some extent permanent and impact how the brain develops.
These changes to the brain and body may in part explain why the consequences of trauma persist for so long and can be very serious. Some of the adulthood issues found to be associated with childhood trauma include:
- Chronic, physical illnesses like obesity and heart disease
- Substance use disorders, smoking
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
Not everyone who experiences childhood trauma will develop any of these problems as adults. However, they occur at higher rates in populations of adults who went through early trauma. If you experienced trauma at a young age, you have an increased risk for any one or more of these health issues.
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How Residential Treatment Can Help You
If you are struggling with depression and you suspect you may have been traumatized as a child, you need specialized care. Treating depression with no experience of trauma is different from how professionals approach this mental illness impacted by a traumatic childhood.
What you can truly benefit from in residential care is a diverse staff of experts who specialize in mental health, depression, childhood trauma, and trauma-focused therapy. Residential treatment will also benefit you by giving you the chance to limit distractions and really focus on healing from past trauma. Outpatient therapy is often too limited to tackle such a complex mental health issue effectively. Some of the treatments you may have access to in residential care include:
- Medical care. Good physical health is important for mental well-being. And many people with depression benefit from medications. Undergoing treatment in a safe, residential facility gives you time to try different antidepressants until you find one that works best.
- Trauma-focused therapy. Anyone who has experienced trauma can benefit from specialized therapy sessions. Trained therapists will guide you through the process of facing your memories of trauma. This can be frightening, but in a safe environment it will help you learn to process trauma and learn to cope with the painful memories in healthy, productive ways.
- Behavioral therapies. Through behavioral therapy you will learn how to make positive changes to your negative and damaging thought patterns and behaviors. A therapist helps you set and achieve goals and take active steps to managing depression and coping with trauma.
- Creative therapies. Art, music, dance, and writing can be immensely useful as an outlet for expressing difficult emotions and painful memories. Residential treatment centers usually offer a variety of alternative and creative therapies to support your recovery.
- Family or relational therapy. Trauma ripples outward from your own personal experiences and colors all your interactions with other people. Therapy that helps you heal with those you care about is an important way to improve relationships, develop better relationship skills, and learn more effective ways to communicate.
Depression by itself is a difficult mental illness to manage. With good treatment, it is possible to learn to cope with depression, to get relief from symptoms, and to learn to enjoy life again. When depression is triggered by trauma, it is necessary to get to the root experience. You must face your past traumatic experiences in order to process them in healthier ways and to be able to recover from depression. By doing this in residential treatment you can begin living your life with more joy and satisfaction.
Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance use disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles-based program and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.