Jennifer Chambers is Coordinator of the Empowerment Council, an independent voice for clients of mental health and addiction services. CAMH funds the Empowerment Council, based on the best evidence that a partnership between an independent client voice and a health care facility is the best way to get representative and meaningful engagement. In this guest post, Jennifer sheds light on the need for more trauma-informed care.
Schizophrenia, bipolar, depression – what do these words actually tell us? A reality known to most clients and far fewer professionals is that the majority of people with mental health and addiction issues are survivors of abuse or other trauma. The role of the Empowerment Council at CAMH is to be a voice for clients, and we have been speaking about the impact of trauma for as long as we have existed.
Clients have been seeking help to deal with trauma for a very long time. Yet, little attention has been paid to this crying need. People are often asked about symptoms but seldom about life experience.We are deluged with advertising about our faulty brains and the need for pharmaceutical solutions, but there are no advertising campaigns about the long-term effects of abuse.
There are no hefty donations given for recovery from trauma. Yet there is overwhelming evidence that abuse – type, severity, age when it happened – plays a major role in what gets defined as mood disorders, psychosis, and other diagnoses. The time to bring trauma to the forefront is now. All services need to be trauma-informed – sensitive to the effects of trauma. There needs to be much more counseling and therapy for survivors of trauma for both men and women.
The culture of psychiatric hospitals has been such that strong emotions are often treated as symptoms that must be contained. People showing strong feelings can even end up restrained, sometimes a trauma in itself. But emotions are part of our healing. It’s a reality that’s lost when we are reduced to biochemistry.
Addressing and understanding the role of trauma is crucial to moving forward in life. Survivors want the opportunity to get beyond numbness and pain, to regain our true selves and our capacity for joy.