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Suffering in Silence: America's Hidden Trauma Epidemic




In my last article, we explored the accelerating mental health crisis overwhelming the country, reflected in rising mood disorders, substance abuse, and suicide risk. We discussed the emerging trauma-informed paradigm recognizing unprocessed painful memories as the root driver of widespread distress. We covered obstacles to accessing trauma education that prevents disseminating these urgently needed perspectives amongst more healthcare workers.


In this piece, we'll pull focus to illuminate the epidemic scale of emotional trauma's impacts currently hidden in plain sight across society. Without first acknowledging trauma's pervasive presence shaping the struggles of individuals and communities nationwide, we cannot mobilize trauma-informed care approaches at scale to provide relief.


A Crisis Hidden in Plain Sight

Despite trauma's profound role in deteriorating collective well-being, it remains drastically underestimated within systems meant to monitor and address public health threats. For example, the CDC tracks detailed statistics on cancer, heart disease, diabetes, violence, smoking, HIV, car accidents, and hundreds more conditions. But nowhere in sprawling data sets does information appear to capture the prevalence of trauma exposure or associated behavioral health impacts.


The effects of trauma are often unseen. As a result, trauma continues inflicting devastating emotional damage that fuels dysfunction throughout a person's life. Unlike infectious diseases, trauma lacks overt physically detectable symptoms easily measured and monitored. Trauma's prevalence flies under the societal radar.


Without proper tracking informing resource allocation and aligning clinical needs, only the tip of the trauma iceberg receives treatment through mental healthcare today. Vast numbers navigating distress lack access or feel unsafe disclosing sensitive histories, suffering silently outside systems where stigma persists.


In the information age where knowledge is power, invisibility equals neglect. So exposing trauma's true scope is imperative for prioritizing a public health, compassion-based model addressing this hidden epidemic. Transforming trauma statistics from estimates to exact counts accelerates directing support where most required to prevent compounded impacts.


The Startling Scope of Trauma's Reach

While an accurate total trauma cases count still doesn't exist, initial surveys reveal that millions are affected by trauma annually. Daily trauma incidents span countless forms - from bullying, loss, accidents, and neglect to catastrophic violence — cutting across all demographics.


Let's examine sample research snapshots conveying the sweeping scale of trauma's impacts on Americans today:

  • Childhood Exposure: 25% of children endure abuse & other adverse experiences before 18. And over 34 million adults report experiencing parental domestic violence growing up. (United States Child Maltreatment Report, 2019)

  • Disasters & Violence: An annual average of 329 mass shootings and 221,000 rapes traumatizes communities with rippling impacts. Meanwhile, over the past 2 years, climate disasters harmed 40 million survivors struggling with profound loss. (Gun Violence Archive, 2022), (Morgan & Truman, 2020), (International Federation of Red Cross, 2022)

  • Systemic Trauma: Police violence, anti-immigrant policies, forced family separations, and healthcare discrimination retraumatize vulnerable groups already facing marginalization stressors. Meanwhile, a lack of trauma-informed practice in law enforcement, immigration, and political systems perpetuates harm.

  • Healthcare Trauma: As many as 1 in 3 women endure birth trauma, with over 50% of ICU stays ending in PTSD development. Yet patient-centered care models acknowledging medical settings as trauma hotspots remain extremely rare. (Beck et al., 2021), (Righy et al., 2019)

Of course, tragedy makes headlines. But trauma's impacts cascade far beyond isolated incidents, shaping societal issues like homelessness, addiction, and health decline demanding vastly more investment in healing and prevention nationwide.

The Difficulty Disclosing Trauma

Facing stigma and dismissal, trauma survivors hesitate to share their stories even with close confidants. Without a guarantee of safe reception, most carry pain alone rather than risk further wounding by opening up to judgment or mismanaged reactions.


In one survey of nearly 4000 respondents:

  • 67% share aspects of trauma history with less than 3 people

  • 83% worry about listener reaction if sharing a trauma story

  • 73% have had a negative experience disclosing trauma (Ghafoori et al., 2016)

This pervasive climate of silence surrounding sensitive experiences allows individual and collective trauma to spread unchecked. Yet healing trauma fundamentally requires a compassionate witness to integrate memories into a cohesive life narrative.


By scaling access to safe spaces and qualified support, we can transform the difficulty of disclosure into an opportunity for healing for all.


The Path Ahead

While trauma exposure impacts huge swaths of society, it takes courage to first acknowledge invisible epidemics. In future articles, we'll continue shedding light on hidden trauma while envisioning comprehensive systems for effectively addressing America's silent mental health emergency.


I invite healthcare professionals, counselors, therapists, and coaches to explore how the NeuroNarrative Approach™ can equip you with the trauma-informed tools and principles needed to bring healing to the countless individuals struggling with trauma's impacts. Visit www.treymalicoat.com to learn about classes, coaching, retreats, and intensives designed to expand your skillset and nurture your resilience in this vital work. Together, we can break the silence and pave the way for transformative healing.


In Kindness,


Trey Malicoat, M.S.

 

 




References:

Beck, C. T., Gable, R. K., & Sakala, C. (2021). Prevalence and risk factors for developing post-traumatic stress disorder following childbirth: A prospective longitudinal study. Journal of Perinatal Medicine, 49(2), 197-208.

Ghafoori, B., Fisher, D. G., Korosteleva, O., & Hong, M. (2016). A randomized, controlled pilot study of a single session psychoeducation treatment for urban, culturally diverse, trauma-exposed adults. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 204(6), 421-430. https://doi.org/10.1097/NMD.0000000000000512

Gun Violence Archive. (2022). Mass Shootings in 2022. Retrieved from https://www.gunviolencearchive.org/reports/mass-shooting?year=2022

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. (2022). World Disasters Report 2022. Retrieved from https://www.ifrc.org/document/world-disasters-report-2022

Morgan, R. E., & Truman, J. L. (2020). Criminal victimization, 2019. Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved from https://bjs.ojp.gov/content/pub/pdf/cv19.pdf

Righy, C., Rosa, R. G., da Silva, R. A., Kochhann, R., Migliavaca, C. B., Robinson, C. C., Teche, S. P., Teixeira, C., Bozza, F. A., & Falavigna, M. (2019). Prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in adult critical care survivors: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Critical Care, 23(1), 213. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13054-019-2489-3

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children's Bureau. (2021). Child maltreatment 2019. Retrieved from https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/documents/cb/cm2019.pdf

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