Trauma Facts and Resources

Are you a trauma survivor? Read our guide to find out how trauma can impact your mental, emotional, and physical health.

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Last updated: Mar 1st, 2023
Trauma facts and Resources

If you’ve ever experienced or witnessed a distressing, scary, or violent event, you may be impacted by trauma. Traumatic events can happen at any time throughout your life, and living with trauma can cause you to feel anxious, depressed, or angry.

Luckily, there is help for trauma survivors, no matter when the traumatic event occurred or how your trauma presents itself in your daily life. We’ve compiled some important facts and resources in this guide to help you better understand trauma and, hopefully, get the help you need.

If you have thoughts of suicide, reach out to a friend or relative. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline by dialing 988 (or 1-800-273-8255) or call 911.

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What is trauma?

Trauma occurs when someone experiences a disturbing or distressing event or series of events. This experience causes long-term emotional, psychological, and physical effects. People who go through traumatic events have a tough time coping with these effects, leading to issues like mental illness, substance abuse, and chronic health conditions.

People experience trauma regardless of:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Class
  • Ethnicity
  • Nation of origin
  • Gender
  • Sexuality
  • Socioeconomic status

Trauma particularly affects children because adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can impact brain development. Since the brain is not fully developed until someone is in their mid-twenties, the impact of ACEs can fundamentally affect how children process information, detect danger, and trust safe sources of support. In addition, trauma is not restricted to the individual — entire communities, nations, or groups of people can also experience collective trauma.

If you live through a natural disaster, witness a crime or accident, or become imprisoned, you could experience trauma. Other experiences that may cause trauma include:

  • Physical, sexual, and emotional abuse
  • Physical or sexual assault and rape
  • Sudden occurrences, like a car accident
  • Physical and emotional childhood neglect
  • Death of a friend or family member
  • Serious illness or injury
  • Job loss or poverty
  • Racism, discrimination, and oppression
  • Violence, war, or terrorism
  • Parental abandonment or divorce

Types of trauma

Many life experiences may cause trauma. In addition, if two people live through the same event, one might experience it as trauma while the other might not. Trauma can be identified not by the event but by its lasting effects. It is traumatic if it causes long-lasting (or sometimes life-long) adverse effects. If you don’t feel those long-term effects, the event did not cause trauma, or it may have caused short-term trauma.

There are many forms of trauma because potentially traumatic events affect people differently. Below you’ll find different types of trauma with definitions and examples.

Acute trauma

Acute trauma occurs after a one-time event, like a car accident or job loss. The trauma is specific, and you can identify it. You may have an intense reaction to this event right after it happens, but the distressing effects often don’t last long. You may recover from acute trauma quicker than other forms.

Chronic trauma

Unlike acute trauma, chronic trauma arises from experiencing persistent and prolonged traumatic events over a period of time. Chronic trauma may result from events like emotional neglect, physical or sexual abuse, or other types of repeated mental, emotional, and physical violence. Sometimes, chronic trauma is hard to define, as it doesn’t always have a definitive beginning, middle, or end.

Complex trauma

Someone might experience complex trauma if they survived many traumatic events or recurring traumatic events. Often, complex trauma results from events that the survivor could not escape and may have been forced to experience. For example, living with a parent with severe mental illness or substance abuse issues could result in complex trauma. Those living with complex trauma often feel unsafe and are hypervigilant about threats in their surroundings. Like chronic trauma, complex trauma isn’t necessarily linear and can be challenging to define.

Secondary or vicarious trauma

Secondary or vicarious trauma happens when you are exposed to the traumatic events of other people. Even though you are not going through the event, witnessing it may traumatize you. This form of trauma often happens to doctors, first responders, and counselors whose professions call them to intervene during or after traumatic events. This type of trauma can also potentially lead to burnout and compassion fatigue.

Adverse childhood experiences (ACE)

An ACE is any detrimental experience a child might live through before they are old enough to cope with the event. This includes both directly experienced events and witnessed events. ACEs include child sexual abuse, the death of a loved one, emotional neglect, and divorce, among others. ACEs impact the child’s brain development, affecting their mental health into adulthood.

Naturally caused trauma

Naturally caused trauma results from natural disasters or occurrences. These events vary widely, from hurricanes and blizzards to floods or volcanic eruptions. Any natural occurrence that causes distress or panic can result in trauma.

Human-caused trauma

Human-caused trauma arises when people accidentally or intentionally cause a traumatic event. Examples of accidental traumatic events include car accidents, plane crashes, or friendly fire. Intentional traumatic events cover an even wider range and may include any form of abuse or violence, like warfare, homicide, arson, bullying, or harassment.

Historical trauma

Historical trauma is not the result of an event or series of events within a person’s lifetime. Instead, it results from generational trauma that can result from traumatic events affecting entire groups, countries, or races of people. Historical trauma, for example, was introduced to describe the trauma experienced by the children of Holocaust survivors. The trauma experienced by the BIPOC community, immigrants, and those living in poverty has been described as historical trauma.

Individual trauma

Individual trauma happens only to one person, but it may impact others. Individual trauma includes single, multiple, and prolonged traumatic events. Those who experience individual trauma are less likely to disclose their trauma or receive the help they need than those who experience group trauma.

Group trauma

Group trauma occurs when a small group with a shared identity or history experiences a traumatic event or events. For example, group trauma may occur with first responders or military service members. Those who experience group trauma often only feel comfortable discussing the trauma with others from that group.

Mass trauma

Also known as collective trauma, mass trauma occurs when the same event impacts many people. This can include natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and human-caused events like war or terrorism. We experienced a recent type of mass trauma with the COVID-19 pandemic. Mass trauma requires large-scale resources for coping and healing, but those affected also tend to unite because of their shared experience. They may struggle both mentally and financially to return their lives to normal.


Re-traumatization can occur at any point in a survivor’s life. It happens when they encounter circumstances that remind them of the traumatic event, causing stress reactions or flashbacks. Sometimes survivors can be re-traumatized when receiving care for trauma, as they may need to recount events or answer questions from clinicians that trigger memories.

Trauma facts and stats

Trauma is a pervasive and complex issue. Research suggests that 50% of people will experience at least one traumatic event. Around 8% of those survivors will develop PTSD. More than likely, you and most people you know have or will experience trauma at some point, so it’s important to know who it affects and how often. Read the statistics below to learn more.

  • Women are two times more likely to develop PTSD than men.
  • 60% of adults report experiencing adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).
  • In the U.S., 26% of children experience a traumatic event before the age of four. Two-thirds of children will experience a traumatic event before they turn 16.
  • In the U.S. in 2019, 1,840 children died of abuse and neglect. More than 1,300 children are treated in emergency rooms daily for violence-related injuries.
  • In a survey of 4,500 children, 2% experienced sexual abuse within the past year, close to 14% experienced maltreatment by a caregiver, and 4% experienced physical abuse.
  • Around 13% of children surveyed reported physical bullying. One-third reported emotional bullying. One-fifth of high school students reported bullying at school in 2019.
  • One-fifth of children surveyed witnessed violence within the previous year at home or in their neighborhood.

Recognizing signs of trauma

If you or a loved one has experienced a traumatic event, you may notice some signs or symptoms of trauma. Knowing these signs is important so you can seek help and learn to cope. Trauma presents itself differently in everyone, but there are some signs you may notice most often, including:

  • Having flashbacks
  • Experiencing panic attacks
  • Feeling on guard or hyperaware
  • Feeling worried, scared, resentful, or unsafe
  • Losing interest in daily activities
  • Being irritable or quick to anger
  • Excessive worrying or crying
  • Having interrupted sleep, sometimes with nightmares
  • Avoiding reminders of the event
  • Isolating from loved ones
  • Feeling immense guilt over what happened
  • Depression symptoms
  • Using unhealthy substances to cope

In addition to these emotional and psychological responses, trauma survivors may also experience physical symptoms like headaches, fatigue, digestive issues, excessive sweating, or a quick heartbeat. Trauma survivors may also be easily startled.

Children and teens

If a child or teenager experiences a traumatic event, their trauma symptoms may present differently than those in adults. Teenagers and older children may show some of the trauma signs above, but they might also act out in disruptive and destructive ways, sometimes seeking revenge for the traumatic event.

In young children, signs of trauma could include:

  • Bedwetting
  • The inability to speak
  • Clinginess with parents or caregivers
  • Regressive behavior
  • Abusing/hurting other children or pets
  • Recreations of the event through play

Long-term effects of trauma

Experiencing a traumatic event or events can have long-lasting mental and physical effects. The more exposure to traumatic events, the more likely someone is to have chronic health issues or participate in risky behaviors. While children are most at-risk of the long-term impact of trauma, people at any age can experience these long-lasting impacts.

A groundbreaking survey called The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study surveyed around 9,500 adults in the U.S. to determine the long-term impacts of ACEs. The survey asked participants questions about traumatic events they experienced before age 18. The results showed that, when compared to adults who did not experience an ACE, adults with four or more ACEs were 2-12 times more likely to:

  • Abuse alcohol or drugs
  • Experience depression
  • Attempt suicide
  • Smoke
  • Rate their overall health as poor
  • Have more than 50 total sexual partners
  • Contract an STI

Trauma survivors were also 1.4-1.6 times more likely to be physically inactive or obese. Many ACEs showed a connection to physical health issues like cancer, lung disease, and liver disease. Those with more than one ACE were more likely to have more than one physical ailment in adulthood.

Experiencing trauma may also have adverse effects on interpersonal relationships. Trauma survivors often have trouble trusting other people, leading to social isolation, feelings of betrayal, and the inability to receive quality medical care.

Trauma and the brain

When you experience a traumatic event, your brain reacts. A distressing experience activates your amygdala, the part of your brain that detects threats and sends signals to the rest of your body. This reaction can trigger your fight-or-flight response or cause you to freeze. Your body also releases adrenaline and stress hormones.

Usually, this reaction diminishes when you’re removed from the traumatic event. But those with PTSD or other long-term trauma effects have hyperactive amygdalas. This hyperactivity causes stress reactions to minor events that are usually unrelated to the traumatic event. We commonly refer to this as someone being in “defense mode,” ready to react to any perceived threat. This condition can lead to problems with sleep, self-perception, and relationships.


The most common long-term impact of trauma is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Most people recover not long after a traumatic event occurs, but some continue to be affected by the event long after it ends. This can lead to emotional, psychological, and physical issues.

A mental health professional usually diagnoses PTSD, and 7-8% of people will experience the disorder at least once. Here are some of the signs of PTSD:

  • Re-experiencing the trauma: Flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts
  • Avoidance: Avoiding triggers that remind you of the event, including people, places, and objects
  • Hyperarousal or reactivity: Sleep issues, feeling tense or angry
  • Cognition and mood issues: Memory problems, feeling guilty or hopeless, losing interest in activities

Treatment for PTSD includes medication, psychotherapy, group therapy, lifestyle changes, and self-care. Learning to manage your symptoms and understand your PTSD can help you process your trauma, identify your emotions, and find peace.

Resources about trauma

Many online resources can help those living with trauma. These resources offer information about seeking further assistance and are a good place to start if you are interested in receiving treatment. Some also provide various tips and steps you can take to begin the healing process on your own.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers a comprehensive list of resources for help dealing with trauma. For more resources, check out our list below.

For survivors

For families and caregivers

For educators

Crisis lines

Coping with traumatic events

There are many ways to cope after a traumatic event. The steps you take to deal with stress, anger, or fear depend on the event itself and on your own needs and resources. But there are some critical steps you can take to lessen the event’s impact and cultivate effective healing and coping strategies.

  • If it was a collective traumatic event — like a mass shooting or natural disaster — limit the amount of news you consume afterward. Staying glued to the news can cause you to relive the event, leading to heightened stress and anxiety. If necessary, commit to setting a reasonable time limit to read or watch the news each day. Choose to view content through designated, trusted sources.
  • Use relaxation techniques and get enough sleep. Deep breathing and meditation can help you calm your body and mind. Establish a clear bedtime routine and avoid alcohol and caffeine to help you sleep better.
  • Make healthy lifestyle changes. This includes eating regular meals, incorporating fun activities into your day, and regularly exercising. Keep in mind that even small decisions can have a significant impact.
  • Ask your loved ones for help. Share how you’re feeling with those you trust and allow them to help you if they can.
  • Don’t ignore or suppress your feelings. Trying not to feel scared or hurt after a traumatic event may be tempting, but processing your emotions through journaling, therapy, or other means can help you accept them and move forward.

Helping children cope

Helping children and teens cope with trauma can be different than working through it yourself. Often, children need more reassurance and require their parents or caregivers to validate their feelings and make them feel safe. If a child or teen does not receive this type of care from adults after a traumatic event, it can lead to long-term effects.

Here are some tips about how to help children and teens cope with trauma:

  • Don’t excessively reveal your own worries or anxieties to the child.
  • Give extra affection, including hugs or a pat on the back.
  • Establish and maintain routines, especially meals and bedtimes.
  • Encourage children to play with other children or participate in activities they enjoy.
  • Talk openly about the event and allow the child to ask questions. Actively listen without interrupting or lecturing.
  • Validate, acknowledge, and accept your child’s emotions, and let them know that everyone reacts differently to trauma.
  • Encourage relaxation through breathing exercises.
  • Model using your own healthy coping strategies to cope with stress.
  • Support the child in receiving therapy and medical treatment.
  • Limit the amount of news coverage your child consumes.

Healing from trauma

Some survivors may wonder if healing after a traumatic event is possible. It may feel like the effects of trauma will never go away and will always follow you. It’s natural to feel like you can’t escape your trauma. But the truth is that there are many steps you can take to heal from trauma.

One way to begin healing is through a mindset shift: viewing yourself as a survivor of trauma instead of a victim. This reframing can help you acknowledge what happened and commit yourself to processing and releasing emotions. It can also help you build resilience and coping skills.

Other methods of healing from trauma include:

  • Psychotherapy: Including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Medications: Including antidepressants and anti-anxiety medicine
  • Lifestyle changes: Healthy eating, movement, and sleep, as well as avoiding substances
  • Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy: Using MDMA under a therapist’s care to speed up the processing of trauma

Trauma-informed care

When seeking help for trauma, you may come across the term “trauma-informed care.” This approach uses accepted psychological principles about trauma to dictate patient support. Practitioners of trauma-informed care don’t attempt to simply treat your symptoms but, instead, gain a complete understanding of your life, including traumatic events, to help you heal.

Trauma-informed care practices seek to make patients feel safe and supported while helping them work through traumatic issues. Other core principles of trauma-informed care include:

  • Peer support
  • Collaboration
  • Empowerment
  • Humility
  • Responsiveness


Innerbody uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

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