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Impact of Trauma

Learn more about the various impact of trauma.

The image illustrates several potential sources of life adversity and trauma including Socioeconomic deprivation Parental mental illness Abuse and neglect Child labour Community violence Catastrophic life events The image illustrates several potential sources of life adversity and trauma including socioeconomic deprivation, parental mental illness, abuse and neglect, child labour, community violence, and catastrophic life events

Traumatic stress is caused by events or experiences that confront a person, or an entire community or society, with actual or imminent death, destruction, or harm and that are overwhelming and potentially life-changing. There is a wide range of potential triggers and sources of trauma and traumatic stress. These can include socioeconomic deprivation, parental mental illness, abuse and neglect, child labour, community violence, and catastrophic life events.

While psychological trauma tends to be associated with abrupt, catastrophic, or life-changing events, more subtle, everyday life experiences such as severe poverty, discrimination, homelessness, political repression, sexual harassment in the workplace, immigration, and legal proceedings can also result in trauma. Therefore, psychological trauma is often tightly linked with oppression, injustices, and inequalities in society.

There is considerable diversity in the experiences and effects of trauma and traumatic stress across individuals, communities, and cultures. This diversity is attributable to not only the nature of the stressors and to individual differences, but also to the social and cultural context in which they occur. For example, family and community cohesion, access to socio-economic resources, minority or majority group status, gender relations, and racism are all important features of the context in which traumatic events occur.

The Impact of Trauma on Psychological Wellbeing

Trauma can affect an individual’s wellbeing in varied and complex detrimental ways, including (Ford et al., 2015):

Acute traumatic stress reactions
This can be characterised by a range of symptoms such as confusion, shock, dissociation, and hypervigilance. It is usually short-lived and subsides within hours to days.
Changes in appraisal
For example, the persistent perception that one’s coping resources are insufficient to protect against real or perceived harm, which triggers a stress response.
Heightened arousal and affect dysregulation
This can lead to impaired functioning, fluctuating emotions, memory problems, and others.
Development of mental disorders
such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety.

It is, however, important to recognise that a potentially traumatic event can also be associated with positive outcomes such as strengthening one’s spirituality and sense of purpose in life, and others. Post-traumatic growth is a specific example of a positive outcome and is explored later in this course.

A Note on Language

Language is powerful. Insensitive discussions of trauma may directly or indirectly communicate messages of contempt, blame or shame. Trauma-sensitive language should be used when discussing the topics throughout this course. Such language conveys empathy and avoids prejudice, discrimination, and retraumatization. Many of us have likely been affected by a potentially traumatic event in some way or another throughout our lives. It is therefore vital to interact with one another with kindness, respect, sensitivity, and compassion.

FutureLearn Comments

As a member of the FutureLearn community, you have the opportunity to engage in discussions with your peers within the ‘comments’ sections. It is important that you are aware of the welfare of other learners and that appropriate boundaries are maintained. FutureLearn’s Code of Conduct is a useful resource to familiarise yourself with. This course offers a valuable opportunity for professionals, and people interested in the field of trauma, PTSD, and mental health, to have positive and constructive conversations about the area. If you notice any contributions within ‘comment’ areas that upset or concern you, please flag this to the FutureLearn moderators. These comments will be reviewed by the FutureLearn team, who may remove the comment make direct contact with the learner.


Ford, J. D., Grasso, D. J., Elhai, J. D., & Courtois, C. A. (2015). Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Scientific and Professional Dimensions. Academic press. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-374462-3.X0001-9

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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the Global Context

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