What is a  Trauma-related disorder?

Once a taboo topic and laughed at as a weakness, trauma is now increasingly moving into the social and scientific focus. And rightly so! According to estimates, around 26% of men and 18% of women in Germany suffer from trauma, in the USA it is as much as 61% and 51%, respectively. Not all of them also experience post-traumatic stress disorder, but at least 4% of men and 12% of women suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. So it is time we all learned more about this disease in the midst of society!

How does trauma arise?

When people experience extreme stressful situations in which their own safety or that of their loved ones is threatened and they feel fearful and helpless, they can develop trauma. Our natural coping strategies cannot always cope with such an extreme situation and are overwhelmed. Such trauma has various after-effects.

Forms of trauma-related disorder

Psychological secondary illnesses that can be traced back to trauma are summarized under the term trauma-related disorder. These often only occur within the first six months after the experience or sometimes even later.

The best-known trauma-related disorder is probably post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In addition, depression, burn-out, addictions, dissociative and personality disorders or anxiety and eating disorders are also among the after-effects of trauma.

Those affected suffer from depression, sadness or persistent tiredness and listlessness. Other symptoms include a loss of memory of a certain period of life or the splitting of the personality into different parts that can lead a life of their own. The symptoms naturally depend on the type of sequelae and differ from case to case.

Post-trauma disorders also have physical consequences. Dissociative disorders can lead to a loss of control over certain parts of the body. Addictions often have serious health consequences depending on the addictive substance. Eating disorders often result in severe weight loss and can even be fatal.

Depending on the type of trauma, this also has the corresponding consequential disorder. Statistics show that the likelihood of PTSD as a result of trauma, for example, in the case of rape or a war experience, is highest at around 38%. After a fire or a natural disaster, however, only 4.5% of those affected suffer a trauma-related disorder.

Risk and protective factors

Not every person who goes through a traumatizing experience has to suffer from a trauma-related disorder. According to studies, there are various risk factors that can be used to determine the likelihood of such a disease. On the other hand, this data can also be used to read possible protective factors that protect people from experiencing secondary trauma disorders after shocking events.

In general, age and gender seem to play a role in relation to risk. While children and adolescents have the greatest risk of suffering from secondary trauma disorders, it is comparatively low in young adults and middle-aged people. In old age, the risk increases again. In general, more women than men suffer from disorders as a result of trauma.

Discrimination and racism, to which people of color are often exposed in everyday life, can also promote the development of secondary trauma disorders. This is a major problem, especially for people seeking asylum in Germany, and psychologists are therefore calling for the needs of traumatized people to be given special consideration in asylum procedures in order not to aggravate existing trauma.

So-called protective factors that can reduce the likelihood of such a disorder include strengthening previous experience, security and support from the social environment. Social recognition and solid mental health prior to the experience can also have a positive impact.

Although we cannot prevent trauma and its sequelae, a happy, loving and safe childhood can lay the foundation for stable mental health for life. Those who weren’t allowed to enjoy this can still make up for a lot with stable social contacts, because this network holds us up when we go through difficult times.


Maercker & Augsburger: The post-traumatic stress disorder. (2019).