By Sarah Knutson – Treating Trauma is an Urgent Public, Not Personal, Need

Treating trauma is a community problem, not personal.

Treating trauma is a community problem, not personal.,

A  woman is beaten  in the United States every 15 seconds.  Society pays the cost in mental health budgets. courts , cops, corrections, substance  abuse, and children’ services. The real social cost of trauma has been well known to people who work in those systems for years, but there is no consensus about what to do, or how to build political support, for treating trauma.

treating trauma is essential.  People like Cheryl Sharp and Shery Mead are bringing the role of treating trauma in mental health to the forefront, nationwide.  Shery has applied her form of  “Intentional Peer Support” as a non-medical way of treating trauma.

Cheryl recently spearheaded an effort by the National Council on Behavioral Health Care to alert providers that  80-90 percent of adults in the public mental health system, as well as in jails, or with substance abuse concerns are trauma survivors.  The National Council on Behavioral Health has done pioneering research and advocacy on the connection between trauma, emotional distress, incarceration, and substance abuse — and the real cost of trauma to society.

Another excellent, downloadable magazine on cutting edge issues in trauma-related impacts on mental health is  at:

Not Treating Trauma Leaves People Confused and Isolated

What this says to me is that we, as a society, are looking at these issues through the wrong lens. Right now, we are seeing them as problems of individual mental health or personal disease and disorder. We are spending a lot of time, resources, and effort trying to come up with categories of diseases and disorders that we can name or label (diagnose), and hopefully “fix” or “treat.”

Shery Mead, creator of Intentional Peer Support

Shery Mead, creator of Intentional Peer Support

What we are really dealing with, however, is that many people in this world are suffering significant injuries to their physical, mental and spiritual personhood that the people in their usual social networks are ill-equipped to help them deal with, make sense of, and grow beyond.

As a result, far too many of us who suffer such injuries have to figure it out on our own, and find a way to cope. While most of us give it our best shot, it often leads to some pretty intense feelings or extreme behaviors because we’retrying to deal with tremendous pain that no one in our normal world knows how to help us with.

We end up feeling isolated and cut off. And, the more we feel that way, the more intense the feelings get, and the more different we tend to act. This creates a vicious cycle: other people see and treat us as different, leading to more and more intense isolation, confusion, and hopelessness.

Diagnosing and Labeling Makes Treating Trauma Harder

For me, the solution lies not in categorizing or labeling the unique and creative ways  people try to make sense of — and cope with – -their suffering. Diagnosing and labeling only exacerbates the problem, which originates, in significant part, from people feeling cut off and different from the rest of the human family in the first place.

The solution is in actively developing communities (e.g., neighborhoods, families, schools) capable of recognizing when one of our own is in distress, and responding by reaching out in a way that nurtures genuine connection and a sense of belonging — a meaningful relationship to the social fabric in which we all are inextricably entwined.

This approach is best characterized as a human rights and community development approach than an individual mental health approach.

It recognizes that  we are all vulnerable to trauma and injuries.  Further, it recognizes that the greatest gift any of us can give is acknowledging our common dignity and humanity. It encourages each of us to take responsibility, beyond legal obligation or financial gain, that goes to the core of what it means to be human — intentionally reaching out, seeking to create community where we live, offering each other meaningful opportunities for connection and belonging.

What would a community response to treating trauma look like?

1 comment to By Sarah Knutson – Treating Trauma is an Urgent Public, Not Personal, Need

  • Sarah Knutson

    Thanks so much to Wellness Wordworks for getting these ideas out there! The only thing I might add – that perhaps got shifted in the editing – is that many of us are thinking about trauma as more of a human rights reparations issue rather than an mental health treatment issue. We think that society should be diagnosing and treating communities for their failure to protect human rights and providing support/reparations to trauma survivors who have suffered such human rights violations under their watch. Thus, Shery Mead has gone on record as saying that the core aspiration of Intentional Peer Support is human rights-oriented social change and community development rather than a mental health approach to individual trauma treatment or recovery.