Recognizing National Mental Health Awareness Month and the Importance of Trauma-informed Care

May 31, 2013

This May we join the Administration in recognizing National Mental Health Awareness Month. We know that the trauma of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking can have devastating mental health consequences. Unfortunately, we also know that the mental health needs of survivors frequently go unmet due to lack of community resources. 

Individuals who experience domestic violence or sexual assault are at increased risk for anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, sleep disturbances, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Studies have shown that 64% of domestic violence survivors and up to 94% of sexual assault survivors experience PTSD. It is critical to offer survivors high-quality mental health and support services that recognize the pervasiveness of trauma and its impact on survivors.

In recent years, domestic violence and sexual assault service organizations have integrated trauma-informed care into their service delivery model. Trauma-informed care incorporates an understanding of the pervasiveness of trauma and reflects an understanding that “symptoms” may be survival strategies - adaptations to intolerable situations when real protection is unavailable and a person’s coping mechanisms are overwhelmed. Trauma-informed care is designed to reduce retraumatization and support healing and resiliency in a manner that incorporates culturally specific experiences of trauma and provides culturally relevant and linguistically appropriate services. Organizations providing trauma-informed services create safe spaces for healing based on the principles of respect, dignity, empowerment, and hope. They also reflect an awareness of the impact of this work on providers and emphasize the importance of organizational support and provider self-care.

OVW is proud to support projects implementing innovative, trauma-informed strategies that reduce the mental health consequences of domestic and sexual violence survivors.  In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I would like to highlight a few of the amazing programs of our grantees providing trauma-informed services.

  • OVW’s Children Exposed to Violence grantees are training programs on Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy for children. This form of therapy is highly successful in improving mental health outcomes for children with a history of experiencing trauma, such as child sexual abuse and witnessing domestic violence.
  • The National Sexual Violence Resource Center is using OVW funding to provide an innovative course entitled “The Brain, Body, and Trauma.” This course, designed for victim service providers, gives an overview of the neurobiological and psychological implications of sexually violent trauma and the information and skills necessary to provide trauma-informed services.
  •  The International Association of Chiefs of Police developed the Trauma Informed Sexual Assault Investigation Training Project to support the development of officer skills needed to make effective initial response and investigative decisions in sexual assault cases.  Officers learn about the effects of trauma on victims, the realities and myths of sexual assault crimes, and how to identify and document perpetrator behaviors used to test, select and isolate victims.
  • The Rose Brooks Center in Kansas City, MO created a training on universal design and trauma informed care as part of their Safety First Initiative. The training connects the principles of universal design – creating spaces that are inherently accessible to all individuals, regardless of age, ability, or health – with principles of trauma informed care and is a core competency for both local domestic violence providers and disability service providers. Training participants identify practices they can adapt within their agencies to prevent retraumatization and improve outcomes for survivors.
  • Community Abuse Prevention Services Agency (CAPSA) in Logan, UT began reviewing their policies, procedures and practices through a trauma-informed lens.  This approach provided CAPSA with the opportunity to change their organizational culture, provide more individualized services, and work with people in a more holistic manner. CAPSA developed a Planning Ahead process that allows staff to discuss any particular stressors or needs a shelter resident may anticipate while living in a communal shelter environment. 

More resources on this important subject can be found at the HHS-funded National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health

On a final note, in our efforts to provide compassionate care for survivors, we often forget about the importance of self-care. The staff at OVW and I know from our own experiences that working with survivors of trauma and violence can lead to burn out and compassion fatigue. It is when we are at our healthiest, physically and mentally, that we are able to provide the best services and most compassionate care. I encourage you to be mindful of your own mental health needs.  

During Mental Health Awareness Month, we are reminded of the many ways in which mental health issues can impact each and everyone of us.  By working together I am confident that we can promote healing and increase the health of all our communities.