PA to focus on effects of Trauma on Mental and Physical Health

Department of Human Services (DHS) Secretary Teresa Miller and Governor’s Office of Advocacy and Reform Executive Director Dan Jurman discussed the far-reaching effects of trauma on mental and physical health, a person’s sense of opportunity and hope in changing and overcoming individual circumstances, and whole communities through shared experiences.

“Trauma is a broad term, but it is a varying, individual experience. We cannot oversimplify a person’s own trauma, but we can be compassionate and empathetic in validating a person’s circumstances,” said Secretary Miller. “This focus can and must be embedded across public and private systems. Government, social service providers, education, health care, law enforcement, and religious communities all have the opportunity to take a collaborative, trauma-informed approach to understanding and validating a person’s trauma and being part of a healing, restorative process that helps a person overcome their challenges and circumstances.”

Trauma is defined as lasting emotional and physical results of an event, series of events, or circumstances that can create biologically based responses with long-lasting, adverse effects on a person’s learning, relationships, functioning, and well-being. Trauma can stem from a variety of personal experiences such as unhealthy relationships, poor mental or physical health, child abuse, domestic violence, or crime. Trauma can also affect an individual whose circumstances or identity subjects them to larger community challenges like poverty, racism, disasters, or a public health crisis like we are currently experiencing through COVID-19. The effects of this trauma can begin in childhood and extend across a person’s lifespan, and consideration of an individual’s experience with trauma must be built into systems that provide care and supportive services so we can truly meet a person’s specific needs.

Because trauma affects so many Pennsylvanians, Governor Wolf announced his intent to make Pennsylvania a trauma-informed state. A think-tank of 25 experts in fields like psychiatry, psychology, education, law enforcement, social work, public health, community development, county government, and clergy was established to represent fields like sexual assault, domestic violence, addiction, post-incarceration re-entry, and child welfare, among others, representing urban, suburban, and rural communities around Pennsylvania. The group would establish guidelines, benchmarks, and goals for embedding trauma-informed care across government, health care, social services, education, and corrections systems.

This work has culminated in a final report called Trauma-Informed PA: A Plan to Make Pennsylvania a Trauma-Informed, Healing-Centered State, released earlier this week. The report outlines a mission, vision, and values for embedding trauma-informed principles across systems of care and social services.

“By becoming a trauma-informed state, we affirm an understanding that behaviors, circumstances, and outcomes often seen as negatives are usually caused by or are symptoms of unhealed and underlying trauma,” said Jurman, who led the think-tank and will oversee implementation of the plan. “When we can align our work with that focus, we can shift our focus to understanding the individual as a whole person with a complex history and experiences that influence their decisions and behaviors. Pennsylvania is committed to embedding this focus across systems of care and helping people make progress towards their individual goals, heal, and achieve a better life.”