The Role of Trauma in Social Change

April 19, 2022

As a society, we are becoming increasingly aware of the role trauma can play in the lives of individuals and our society as a whole. Trauma is defined as an event or series of events that are experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening. Trauma can involve events like sexual or domestic abuse, natural disasters, war, poverty, incarceration, and much more. Unlike typical forms of mental distress, traumatic events challenge an individual’s mental, physical, and emotional resiliency to an overwhelming degree.

Some individuals who experience a traumatic event are able to integrate and recover from the experience without negative effects. For others, the trauma impacts them to such a high degree that they develop long-lasting adverse symptoms, ranging from depression and crippling anxiety to emotional flashbacks, relationship instability, and a general sense of malaise.

The Value of Acknowledging Trauma

Traumatic events are more common than may be expected. The World Mental Health Survey Consortium found that over 70% of respondents reported experiencing a traumatic event. These are individuals in our communities, our colleagues, and family members; each carrying a difficult weight of unseen trauma that impairs their ability to participate fully in life. Without adequate support and intervention, the impact of trauma continues long after the event itself has ended in the form of intergenerational trauma or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The integrity of social systems, family structures, and individuals are all subject to the debilitating effects of trauma; the flow of progress, evolution, and change can only move forward if we address it head-on.

Typically, the focus of social change is on obvious essentials like a livable wage, access to healthcare, and education. These are deeply important to create a baseline of accessible living conditions for all people, but as a society, we are only beginning to understand how trauma can halt that progress. If we are to focus on building a positive future for all people and developing innovative solutions to the problems they face, then we must recognize how trauma impacts our communities and the various ways it manifests.

A Trauma-Informed Path Forward

Trauma sensitivity can change the landscape for whole communities, but it requires a custom solution. The first step in tackling an issue of this magnitude is awareness. By equipping individuals and organizations with the tools to help those who have suffered trauma, we can work to help communities build the resilience they need to move forward.

This is no easy feat; to do this, communities, schools, and government services need to adopt trauma-informed approaches to promote social and emotional development in families. Outcomes can be improved if service providers make the effort to understand and develop a holistic attitude, which includes acknowledging trauma. By developing Trauma-informed education and making it accessible at the personal and collective level, we can provide a platform for individuals to feel safe, overcome adversity and thrive.

For more information about Trauma Informed care and work, check out this video featuring our project partners, who helped make Delaware the first trauma-informed state.