Reflections on Trauma

Hi folks,

I am just back from a National Aboriginal Health Research Conference and Summer School on Indigenous mental health, held in Montreal. It was my good fortune to meet some of the leaders in the field and discuss where we are at in the research community regarding our growing understanding of trauma and the impact of this on our mental health.

Over the next while, I am going to blog about trauma because it is one of the most pressing mental health concerns and one that impacts people living with and at risk for HIV/HCV. Certainly it has been a thread of exploration in my own life as I have sought to understand the intergenerational impacts of residential school along with the systematic attempts to dismantle Indigenous cultures across Canada.

In some ways, I have come to understand trauma as an interlocutor- a voice in the midst of cultural and social realities that speaks to the gap between what resources are needed and what resources are available.

Certainly, trauma is experienced in many forms, such as:

  • a result of physical violence – e.g. automobile accident
  • a result of  natural/ human made disasters – floods, earthquakes, war
  • a result of historical physical and emotional violence
  • and a result of current social and lived conditions

Many people experience trauma and do not suffer from ongoing debilitating effects- and others find themselves in situations whereby trauma has an ongoing impact on behaviours and relationships. Psychology, psychiatry, medical anthropology and neuroscience all look at trauma through a particular lens and offer particular insights into healing. Some of the most exciting research and recent theoretical developments draw on the wisdom and potential of human’s innate capacity for self-healing. Self-healing doesn’t mean going it alone- it means understanding what constitutes the conditions for healing and fostering therapeutic environments in which healing can occur.

A case in point:

A recent study has been released on homelessness in BC highlighted some very important information regarding mental health and homelessness.



This report details the findings from 500 homeless individuals who attended a one-session, face-to-face, structured clinical interview between May and September 2009. Homeless individuals were surveyed in Vancouver, Victoria and Prince George. Some result highlights include:

  • We found extremely high rates of multiple mental disorders (comorbidities) in our participants; 93 percent had a current mental disorder.
  • The most common disorders participants met the criteria for were alcohol and drug dependence, agoraphobia, major depressive episodes,  posttraumatic stress disorder and general anxiety disorder.
  • The majority of participants had more than one disorder and 56 percent met criteria for a current, non-substance related disorder and at least one concurrent substance dependence disorder.
  • Furthermore, 60 percent of the participants were at some risk of suicide at the time of the assessment, and more than one third of the sample had tried to commit suicide.
  • Many participants reported severe psychological traumatic histories. High rates of multiple traumatization were found in the majority of our sample. Over half of all participants had experienced physical, emotional, and sexual abuse and physical and emotional neglect in childhood and during their critical developmental years. Participants also reported high rates of re-victimization and emotional, physical and sexual abuse in adulthood.
  • Individuals with the most severe cases of mental illness and addiction are the least likely to receive appropriate care.

Furthermore, Aboriginal people are extremely over-represented in the homeless population:

Find the full report here:



How do we deal with trauma? How do we understand trauma? And what supports healing?

Over the next while, I will be posting trauma related resources and discussing promising practices.

Please, join the dialogue and share your thoughts and experiences.