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DHSS holds trauma awareness conference to improve the state's mental health services

Eli Chen/Delaware Public Media


  The Department of Health and Social Services held a conference on Wednesday focused on raising awareness and promoting resources for victims of traumatic experiences.


The “Trauma Matters” conference took place at Delaware Technical Community College’s Terry Campus in Dover. 

  According to a 2011-2012 study conducted by the National Survey of Children’s Health, about 50 percent of Delaware children under 18 have had an adverse experience. Trauma, which can stem from hardships in the domestic or neighborhood environment, has been linked to a number of negative long-term future outcomes that include depression, abusive relationships and unemployment, according to the Adverse Childhood Experiences study, a 15-year landmark study by the CDC and Kaiser Permanente.


Leslie Brower, a DHSS project director focused on trauma-informed care, says when a person goes through a traumatic experience, the body pumps adrenaline into the system to deal with what’s happening at the moment. But it’s also necessary for the brain to relax in order to recover from the trauma.


“Your brain has to undergo another transformation to create a relaxation response,” said Brower. “That’s what many people who have had trauma don’t have. They don’t know how to set that relaxation response in place.”


Brower has been the project leader on a five-year federal grant given to DHSS to equip schools, law enforcement and other institutional partners to provide education and training to recognize and help trauma victims. The grant is currently in its final year.


“The core mission is to work with our behavioral health organizations and conduct training, help them think about how they can change even their physical environments, so that they provide more welcoming, comforting, calmer environments for people to receive services in,” said Brower.  


The event also featured women who spoke about their traumatic experiences. Brenda Jones was working as a high school career counselor in Wilmington when her friends noticed she was acting strangely.


“One day I was walking around my house, with my clothes inside out, one shoe on, one shoe off, and one of my friends, a nurse, came to visit. He said, ‘Something’s not right,’” recalled Jones.


Jones was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Mental health problems also run in her family -- six of her relatives have committed suicide. Jones took many steps to ensure her recovery, from checking into a clinic, undergoing group therapy, and becoming a “trauma peer,” who provide support to other trauma victims.


Jones said she’s personally gained a lot from helping others who’ve dealt troubling experiences.

“I have a freedom and it surpasses all understanding,” she said. “And I think that is one thing I have achieved. And it’s important to be at peace with yourself.”

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