Depression and Trauma: What to Know

There are numerous strategies to help you manage if you have gone through trauma and start to exhibit signs of depression.


It is difficult enough to survive trauma, but it can also have a lasting impact on your mental health.

Trauma can take many different forms, ranging from very visible incidents like acts of terrorism to more private, distressing incidents like sexual assault. Any trauma, regardless of the particular event, has the power to completely upend you.

Trauma can have both direct and indirect effects on depression. But trauma is not the only thing that causes depression; genetics, environment, and other physical issues can all contribute to depression.

It might be too much to handle trauma and sadness at the same time. However, with trauma treatment and other people’s assistance, a lot of people have happy and fulfilled lives.


Is depression a result of trauma?

To put it briefly, Yes. Depression is a typical reaction to a distressing experience.

Indeed, a 2013 assessment of the literature revealed that major depressive illness was present in 52% (more than half) of the individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Furthermore, a 2015 study discovered a strong correlation between early-life trauma and depression symptoms in later life. According to this study, 75.6% of the 349 participants with persistent depression said they had experienced trauma as children. Moreover, the intensity of depressive symptoms was higher in those who had experienced several traumatic incidents in the past.

Feeling down is not the only aspect of depression. Depression symptoms include the following:

  • lack of vigor 

  • enthusiasm or enjoyment in past activities 

  • notable weight loss or growth 

  • excessive sleeping or insomnia

  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

  • overwhelming remorse 

  • difficulty to focus 

  • feelings of worthlessness

Keep in mind that not everyone who goes through a traumatic event will have depression or PTSD.


The nerve system and depression

Even if you do not receive a subsequent diagnosis of depression, traumatic experiences can still have a profound effect on your brain and nervous system.

Your body’s physiological and neurological systems may be significantly impacted by your emotional reaction to trauma. Your nerve system and brain chemistry may be impacted.

The fight-or-flight response is the body’s natural way of helping you get away from a dangerous circumstance or extreme emotional stress.

But, the body triggers the freeze response if you are unable to flee the circumstance. Here, the nervous system freezes, or shuts down, to defend the body, much like a gazelle “playing dead” when it is unable to elude a predator.

In line with the polyvagal theory, the freeze response is sometimes referred to as dorsal vagal shutdown. This is due to the fact that the dorsal vagus nerve, a portion of the nervous system, regulates this shutdown state.

Your body can go into a dorsal vagal “freeze” state and cause feelings of numbness, disconnection, exhaustion, and slowness, among other symptoms of depression. Long after the actual trauma has passed, your body may still be in this state due to triggers from prior traumas.


PTSD versus depression

PTSD and depression are two distinct disorders, however they frequently coexist. According to the National Center for PTSD, the likelihood of depression in PTSD sufferers is roughly three to five times higher.

There are certain similarities between PTSD and depression. The following symptoms are present in both conditions:

  • Having trouble focusing

  • Sleeplessness

  • Loss of enjoyment in once-enjoyed activities

  • Anger

However, PTSD exhibits different symptoms from depression, including:

  • Increase in negative ideas about yourself that were not present before the terrible event 

  • Intrusive memories, nightmares, flashbacks, or being triggered are examples of reliving the traumatic event. 

  • Avoiding situations that remind you of the traumatic event

  • Hypervigilance is a tendency to be twitchy, on high alert, and always on the lookout for danger.


Handling sadness and trauma

The suggested course of treatment for depression and PTSD is psychotherapy. Trauma-focused therapies are frequently even more successful in therapy.

Trauma-focused therapies could concentrate on:

  • Disturbing thoughts 

  • Behaviors of emotion 

  • Avoidance and escape

Speaking with a therapist who specializes in treating PTSD can be beneficial if you decide to seek therapy for the repercussions of a trauma. They will be able to provide therapies that are especially created to address each person’s particular needs following a traumatic experience.

Prolonged exposure (PE) and cognitive processing therapy (CPT) are common therapies for post-traumatic stress disorder.

For instance, exposure therapy is a tool that therapists may use to assist you with facing and controlling your anxieties in a secure setting. These methods are rarely employed by therapists in the treatment of depression or other associated conditions.

Depression treatment in psychotherapy may center on:

  • Identifying the problems in life that exacerbate depression and trying to find solutions

  • Recognizing the negative thought processes that lead to depression

  • Enhancing social interaction habits that are linked to depression

  • Helping to locate chances to include fun activities

  • Utilizing a support network to aid in therapy

Resolving PTSD frequently results in a decrease in depressive symptoms with little to no intervention. Other times, if depressed symptoms persist after PTSD is effectively treated, techniques from therapies for PTSD, such as PE and CPT, can be readily adapted to them.


Next actions

Trauma and depression may be related. Even though the symptoms of PTSD and depression often overlap, they are two different illnesses. It is possible to experience both depression and PTSD concurrently, though.

Depression and PTSD may eventually get worse if they are not treated. However, realize that you do not have to live in constant fear, despair, or worry if you receive the right aid.

It is advisable to call your local emergency department or a national crisis line, like Lifeline Chat or Crisis Text Line, if you are in a crisis. Calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can assist if you are having suicidal thoughts.

If you feel like you need to talk to someone but are not in a crisis, visit our website to speak with a therapist.

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