Recognizing Trauma in Adults and Young People

Available with English captions and subtitles in Spanish.

Presented by Sophia L. Maurasse, MD, McLean Hospital.

Whether a distressing event will lead to trauma doesn’t solely rely on the event or the individual person.

In this talk, Maurasse explains how a traumatic experience is dependent on what we bring into the situation, in terms of our genetic makeup, past traumas we have experienced, and the stage in our development in which the traumatic event occurs.

Watch now to learn more about:

  • How trauma affects the body
  • Which factors contribute to a traumatic experience
  • How trauma presents in children and adolescents

According to Maurasse, human beings are designed to survive. “This is fortunate because we may not have time to analyze how to get out of a situation really quickly,” she says.

The hormone cortisol that is released during times of acute stress can help us fight or flee. Over the longer term, though, cortisol impacts our ability to regulate emotions, regulate blood sugar, and maintain a functioning immune system.

“What helps us in the moment can impact our ability to live long and healthy lives in the longer term,” Maurasse shares.

Traumatic events can occur on an individual, group, or mass level. Their nature can be single, repeating, or cascading. They can be experienced directly, secondarily, or vicariously.

Maurasse points out that children who experience a traumatic event can show signs of regression. Younger children may start wetting the bed or revert to baby talk. Adolescents may show an inability to pay attention or regulate emotion.

“Resources that help a person learn to grow and develop can get hijacked by trauma,” Maurasse says.

How a person perceives and experiences an event is key to their level of distress as well as their capacity to heal. For example, factors such as a close relationship with a supportive adult can help protect young people from trauma.

Trauma is linked to several mental health conditions including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), acute stress disorder, depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, and substance use disorders. Because of this, Maurasse always assesses her patients for a trauma history.

“When we’re thinking about how to recognize trauma, we’re not just thinking about major events in terms of mass casualties that are very obviously traumatic,” she states.

“We’re thinking about what the individual themselves perceives as traumatic. Something that can be traumatizing for one person may not be traumatizing for the other. The presentation varies widely.”

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Sophia L. Maurasse, MD, is the medical director of McLean’s 3East Residential Programs.