Trauma and Resilience
As a school-based therapist working with children (ages 3-18), the most common contributor to mental health issues I have seen is trauma.Trauma is our emotional response to a traumatic event such as an accident, the loss of a family member, a natural disaster, witnessing violence, or the experience of abuse. What makes an event traumatic is the effect it has on us. Something that causes physical, psychological, emotional, or spiritual harm is considered traumatic. How it affects us depends on our perception of that event and how distressing the experience was for us.
The experience of trauma is very individualized as what causes trauma for one person may not for another, and people can experience the same traumatic event and be affected at greatly different levels.
One thing that is clear about trauma is that it is unavoidable. We cannot control the world around us, and most of us will experience traumatic events like loss (whether it be the ending of a relationship, the loss of a family member, or parental divorce) and witnessing events like accidents, natural disasters, or violence.
With trauma often leading to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, behavioral issues, abuse of drugs or alcohol, eating disorders, self-harming behaviors, and suicidal thoughts, it is important that we learn ways of reducing the traumatic effects of these experiences. One way to do that is to understand resilience and how to help build resilience in the youth in our lives.
Resilience is the ability to adapt to traumatic experiences and bounce back when tragedy happens. Individuals with high levels of resilience still experience life stresses and trauma, but they are able to adapt and work through those experiences in ways that prevent excessive mental health disturbances.
One of the best ways to prevent trauma is to help build resilience in the children in our lives, and this is something anyone can do! A key factor of resilience is having positive, supportive relationships. By taking the time to get to know the children in your life (whether they are family, neighbors, friends of your kids, or children you work with) and making them feel supported and connected, you can help them increase resilience. Be a safe space, a trusted adult that children know they can come to for support. By being open-minded, non-judgmental, and validating the children in your life, you are giving them the opportunity to grow resilience and to ultimately overcome the trauma they will experience throughout their life.
So be an outlet, a supportive trusted person that children can turn to in times of need, and help the children in your life feel important, valued, significant, and ultimately help create a positive internal dialogue that children can use to overcome the future trauma they may experience.