“Individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.”

-US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA)

Examples of individual trauma include, but are not limited to:

  • Experiencing or observing physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.
  • Childhood neglect.
  • Having a family member with a mental health or substance use disorder.
  • Experiencing or witnessing violence in the community or while serving in the military; and
  • Poverty and systemic discrimination.

In comparison, collective trauma, is a psychological reaction to a traumatic event shared by any group of people and can affect even an entire society.

Well-known events that resulted in collective trauma include:

  • The Holocaust.
  • Slavery in the United States.
  • The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
  • The Trail of Tears.
  • The Great Irish Famine.
  • Attack on Pearl Harbor; and
  • The September 11th Attack

COVID-19 has also been identified as a source of collective trauma. Additionally, as we learned from the racial justice protests and horrible events that occurred during 2020 and after, minority populations have suffered from collective trauma for centuries due to systemic racism. Multiple traumas can result in more intense consequences and impacts.

Collective trauma can be reduced significantly though through trauma responsive practice.