Trauma and Violence

SAMHSA addresses the impact of trauma on individuals, families, and communities as a behavioral health concern that requires a healing and recovery process.

Trauma and violence are widespread, harmful, and costly public health concerns. SAMHSA describes individual trauma as resulting from "an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being."

Trauma has no boundaries with regard to age, gender, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Trauma is a common experience for adults and children in American communities, and it is especially common in the lives of people with mental and substance use disorders. For this reason, the need to address trauma is increasingly seen as an important part of effective behavioral health care and an integral part of the healing and recovery process.

The effects of traumatic events place a heavy burden on individuals, families, and communities. Although many people who experience a traumatic event will go on with their lives without lasting negative effects, others will have difficulties and experience traumatic stress reactions. How someone responds to a traumatic experience is personal. If there is a strong support system in place, little or no prior traumatic experiences, and if the individual has many resilient qualities, it may not affect his or her mental health.

Research has shown that traumatic experiences are associated with both behavioral health and chronic physical health conditions, especially those traumatic events that occur during childhood. Substance use (e.g., smoking, excessive alcohol use, and taking drugs), mental health conditions (e.g., depression, anxiety, or PTSD), and other risky behaviors (e.g., self-injury and risky sexual encounters) have been linked with traumatic experiences. Because these behavioral health concerns can present challenges in relationships, careers, and other aspects of life, it is important to understand the nature and impact of trauma, and to explore healing.

Alternatives to Seclusion and Restraint

Seclusion and restraint were once perceived as therapeutic practices in the treatment of people with mental and/or substance use disorders. Today, these methods are viewed as traumatizing practices and are only to be used as a last resort when less-restrictive measures have failed and safety is at severe risk.

Seclusion is defined as the involuntary, solitary confinement of an individual. Restraint refers to any method, physical or mechanical device, or material or equipment that immobilizes or reduces an individual’s ability to freely move his or her arms, legs, body, or head. A drug or medication also might be used to restrict behavior or freedom of movement.

Studies have shown that the use of seclusion and restraint can result in psychological harm, physical injuries, and death to both the people subjected to and the staff applying these techniques. Injury rates to staff in mental health settings that use seclusion and restraint have been found to be higher than injuries sustained by workers in high-risk industries. Restraints can be harmful and often re-traumatizing for people, especially those who have trauma histories. Beyond the physical risks of injury and death, it has been found that people who experience seclusion and restraint remain in care longer and are more likely to be readmitted for care.

SAMHSA is committed to reducing and ultimately eliminating the use of seclusion and restraint practices in organizations and systems serving people with mental and/or substance use disorders. SAMHSA’s goal is to create coercion- and violence-free treatment environments governed by a philosophy of recovery, resiliency, and wellness. Successful efforts have eliminated these practices in psychiatric hospitals, forensic psychiatric settings, therapeutic schools, residential treatment centers, and jails and criminal justice settings.

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Last Updated: 05/22/2019