Trauma is an umbrella term for any event that is deeply distressing or disturbing to an individual. We can think of big events – like 9/11 or the SPU campus shooting, and easily see how that can be classified as traumatic. We know that interpersonal violence, both physical and emotional, and the deaths of loved ones are traumatic. What we often do not consider is how trauma and distress may be different for students due to their demographics (sex, race, ethnicity, religious/spiritual beliefs, or even political views).
Take, for example, the 2016 presidential election. According to one article, surveying over 700 college students after the election of Donald Trump, one out of four students expressed clinically significant distress.1 The authors suggest that these findings are concerning due to elevated symptoms of event-related stress predicting future distress and subsequent trauma-related diagnoses.1 Even more interesting, the article found that sex and the religious beliefs of the student were more predictive of stress symptoms than race or social class.1
Unfortunately, while taking into account unique factors of individual students is important, it’s suggested that exposure to at least one traumatic event among college students is high (estimated around 66% - 84%).2 Symptoms displayed post-trauma among students may look like PTSD, depression, anxiety, substance use, or self-harm.2 However, where trauma and symptoms of distress may first be noticed are in social and academic impairment.2 Noticing sudden changes in a student’s affect, behavior, or academic performance may be helpful in identifying students who need additional support.
If you notice a student in need, please refer them to resources like the 24-hour Crisis Line ((206) 461-3222) for additional help.
1Hagan, M. J., Sladek, M. R., Luecken, L. J., & Doane, L. D. (2018). Event-related clinical distress in college students: Responses to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Journal of American College Health. doi: 10.1080/074481.2018.1515763
2Artime, T. M., Bucholz, K. R., & Jakupcak, M. (2018). Mental health symptoms and treatment utilization among trauma-exposed college students. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. doi: 10.1037/tra0000376