This month, Next Chapter wants to learn more about trauma – what it is, how to know when you are traumatized, and what the physical and emotional effects are. We sat down with Ken Curtner, Lead Clinician for Military Affairs at UC Health to learn more.

What is trauma and how does it affect us?

Ken: “The word trauma is used in casual conversations, but people who have experienced trauma can have severe physical and emotional effects. When these effects persist and repeat, a person who has experienced trauma may develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).                     

Trauma, as defined by the American Psychological Association (2022) as the “emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster.” Trauma is not due to any single set of circumstances. Still, it may be considered traumatic based on a person’s response and experience, and their personal experience determines whether or not it is a trauma. What may be traumatic to one person may seem like no big deal to someone else – but this does not mean it isn’t traumatic.”

Are there different types of traumas?

Ken: “Absolutely, there are three types of traumas – acute, chronic, and complex. Any of these traumas may turn into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) if reactions persist and repeat beyond the end of the event. Acute trauma results from a single event, and chronic trauma results from repetitive and prolonged events such as child abuse or domestic violence. Complex trauma results from experiencing multiple events that are invasive and interpersonally based and include events during the war.”

How can you tell the signs of trauma? What about PTSD?

Ken: “Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will have PTSD, but everyone who has PTSD has suffered from trauma. After experiencing a traumatic event, it is normal to have emotional and physical responses, as mentioned before. When these reactions persist or repeat, even when the person is safe, trauma turns into PTSD. To be diagnosed with PTSD, according to the National Institute for Mental Health (2022), an adult must have all of the following for at least one month:

At least one re-experiencing symptom (such as flashbacks, bad dreams, or frightening thoughts)

At least one avoidance symptom

At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms

At least two cognition and mood symptoms”

What other effects come from trauma?

Ken: “The effects of trauma may include ‘exhaustion, confusion, sadness, anxiety, agitation, numbness, dissociation, confusion, physical arousal, and blunted affect – or seemingly emotionless.’ Typically, these happen quickly after the event, and people can move on. Some will also react with anger, fear, sadness, and shame. It is essential to understand that these reactions, as mixed as they may be, do not indicate mental illness but rather a person reacting to and processing the event.”

We are Here to Help

If you or a loved one is a Veteran experiencing the effects of trauma and needs help, please call Next Chapter.

Veterans and their family members can make an appointment through the program website at NEXTCHAPTERCO.ORG or by calling 1-888-719-VETS.

If you or a Veteran you know is suffering from any of these signs or is in crisis, contact the Veterans Crisis Line now: Dial 988 then Press 1.

To hear more from Ken Curtner, you can listen to his interview with KRDO NewsRadio.