Trauma is a near universal experience for people involved in a broad range of systems of care, including child welfare, mental health and substance use treatment, and criminal and juvenile justice systems.

The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines trauma as resulting from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that are experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening and that have lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being. (SAMHSA Trauma and Violence) In addition to individual experiences such as exposure to violence, systemic and environmental factors such as racism and discrimination also are linked to trauma.

Childhood trauma, also referred to as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), is associated with the following: significantly higher rates of depression; use of substances including opioids, alcohol, and tobacco; risky sexual behavior in adults; and suicide. In addition, trauma and chronic stress are highly correlated with many physical health conditions, including heart disease, chronic lung disease, and obesity. (CDC Adverse Childhood Experiences)

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To respond effectively to trauma, systems must be trauma-informed. Being trauma-informed means that the system: realizes the widespread impact of trauma; recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system; responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices; and seeks to actively resist re-traumatization.

Despite clear and growing evidence of the impact of trauma and chronic stress on adult health, no coordinated statewide strategy exists to improve access to trauma-informed policies, programs, and practices within community service systems serving adults and older adults. MAMH has partnered with the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation to conduct an environmental scan of existing initiatives and make recommendations for next steps.


MAMH Perspective

Central to MAMH’s mission is promoting prevention and early intervention to address mental health challenges. Preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences is fundamental to prevention efforts and an opportunity to intervene at the earliest opportunity to mitigate increased risk of mental health conditions over one’s lifetime. MAMH recommends that Massachusetts policy makers coalesce around building a comprehensive plan to screen children and families for trauma risk, implement early childhood mental health and family strengthening programs, and further develop evidence-based interventions to reduce trauma and its impact.

MAMH is an active member of the Campaign for Trauma-Informed Policy and Practice (CTIPP). CTIPP works in collaboration with government, organizations, and citizens to develop trauma-informed, prevention-focused, evidence-informed policies and practices that promote a comprehensive, integrated, multi-sector approach for building trauma-informed communities.