Today on The Academic Minute: Elisa Trucco, associate professor of psychology and director of clinical training, keeps an eye on past trauma for pre-pandemic experiences.
Dr. Elisa Trucco is an Associate Professor of Psychology and the Associate Director of Clinical Training for the doctoral program in Clinical Science in Child and Adolescent Psychology at Florida International University. She directs the Research on Adolescent and Child Health (ReACH) Lab, which focuses on examining risk and protective factors that lead to initiation of adolescent substance use.
The Impact of Social Isolation and Past Trauma on Mental Health
Social connection and a sense of belonging are vital. That’s why quarantine during the pandemic impacted the mental health of people across the world. Especially teenagers.
For them, the impacts may have been greatest, since it happened during a critical time in their development. But how did it impact some of the most vulnerable teens, those with a history of personal trauma?
That’s what my colleagues and I wanted to find out. Together, we led one of the first studies to understand if prolonged social isolation led to greater mental health impacts for those with a history of abuse.
Collective trauma — such as the pandemic — can have long-lasting, negative impacts, and lead to depression and anxiety. But it’s not really understood who is at greatest risk for mental health problems following such events. And we need to know, since they are becoming more common.
What we do know is teens with histories of prior trauma are even more likely to develop psychological disorders later in life — particularly after traumatic events.
That’s why our results were somewhat surprising. Teens who’d experienced emotional abuse in childhood had greater anxiety. This may because they had limited access to friends to help them cope.
In contrast, teens who were physically abused in childhood were more anxious and depressed if they did not socially isolate. Those who are physically abused often don’t want to tell others. Isolation may have taken away some of the stress or worry of anyone finding out about their childhood trauma.
Our findings are only beginning to shine a light on a previously understudied topic.
What’s important is we’re now beginning to see a one-size fits-all response may not work. The most effective strategy may be a more personalized approach to care. One that puts the support of teenagers’ mental health and well-being at the center.