Trauma-Based Mental Illness & Trauma-Informed Care

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines trauma as “resulting from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening, and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being."

Trauma affects people of all ages, genders, races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic statuses and has a profound impact on an individual’s mental health. HelpGuide explains that trauma can stem from one-time events, such as an accident, ongoing stress - such as domestic violence, and commonly overlooked causes, such as the loss of a significant relationship. It can develop from any instance of isolation, feeling overwhelmed, and experiencing a threat to one’s safety, during childhood or as an adult. It is not the event itself, but how you experience it, that produces trauma.

For women who are survivors of commercial sexual exploitation, their trauma is often complex and compounding. A report by the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) explains that survivors often experience “repeated and intrusive trauma ‘frequently of an interpersonal nature, often involving a significant amount of stigma or shame’ and where an individual may be more vulnerable, due to a variety of factors”. Most survivors endured physical and sexual violence, psychological abuse, and a lack of stability and safety for significant portions of their lives. At Magdalene KC, the most common shared experience among survivors is unaddressed childhood sexual assault, and all of the women have experienced rape and physical assault, often aggravated by the use of a weapon.

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is a form of PTSD that results from repeated trauma over months or years. The symptoms of C-PTSD include those of PTSD, as well as uncontrollable feelings, negative self-perception, and difficulty with relationships. C-PTSD often affects those who have experienced abuse from a caregiver or protector, like many survivors of commercial sexual exploitation.

The Office on Women’s Health states that women who have experienced trauma have an increased risk of developing mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance use disorder, and borderline personality disorder. All of the women who reside at Magdalene KC meet the diagnosis for post-traumatic stress disorder, and over half of the women are diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, anxiety and/or depression. This trauma impacts every aspect of a survivor’s life, and that is why it is crucial that it is addressed as part of the healing process.

Most of the residents of Magdalene KC are uninsured. The DHHS report found that access to services, affordability, shame and stigma, mistrust, and the complexity of the individual trauma of survivors make it difficult to provide the necessary care. Survivors need long-term, trauma-informed care where trust can be established and individual needs can be met. Trauma-informed care means learning and understanding the abuse that the survivor has experienced in order to provide appropriate, effective, and welcomed services. It is important to educate staff, establish safety, and develop trusting relationships to engage a survivor in their recovery and empowerment.

At Magdalene KC, all staff members and educators are trained in trauma-informed care, and the safety and dependability of the 2 year residential program allows for the women to navigate through the four phases: Recover, Renew, Grow, and Thrive, with a support system around them. Magdalene KC also incorporates certified Peer Recovery Support Specialists, and activities like art therapy, yoga, music, and gardening for survivors, in addition to a licensed counselor, occupational therapist, and addiction recovery coaches.


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