How Trauma Affects the Brain

Brain pic

Brain
Image: psychologytoday.com

Dr. Christie Mensch serves as a psychiatrist at the Wynadot Center in Kansas City, Kansas. In this role, Dr. Christie Mensch has evaluated and treated many survivors of trauma.

When a person survives an extremely traumatic event, whether a one-time occurrence or a sustained threat to safety, that experience changes the way the person’s brain responds to the world. This occurs in the context of the triune brain model, which distinguishes the survival-focused hindbrain from the emotional and sensory midbrain and the logical forebrain.

Trauma causes the hindbrain to assume control and work to keep the victim alive. The higher order functions of the brain essentially turn off as stress hormones prepare the body for the fight, flight, or freeze response.

The brain is designed to do this in response to threats of danger, but a severe trauma can prevent the intended response of ending survival mode and returning the forebrain to its normal status of rational control. Without this control, the instinctual and emotional responses of the lower-level brain take over.

The amygdala, responsible for identifying threats and connecting memory with emotion, becomes overactive and causes the person to perceive a threat in benign situations. At the same time, an increase in stress hormones prevents the brain from deescalating these threat perceptions.

These processes combine with trauma-induced increased blood flow to the right forebrain and decreased flow to the left forebrain. The person experiences a higher concentration of negative emotions and a reduced capacity to process or voice memories.

The result is often a distressing combination of symptoms that include intrusive thoughts, persistent fear, and negative mood and self-perception. It is possible for these changes to reverse, though it does require professional support and hard work on the part of the individual. Different treatments work for different people, though all involve rewiring and reprogramming affected neural processes.

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The Zero Suicide Initiative at Wyandot Center

Wyandot Center pic

Wyandot Center
Image: wyandotcenter.org

Psychiatrist Dr. Christie Mensch works with adult patients at Wyandot Center, a mental health facility located in Kansas City, Kansas. Dr. Christie Mensch’s associates at Wyandot participate in the Zero Suicide Initiative, thanks to funding from the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City. This program is part of the 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention and works to prevent suicide deaths in people who are being cared for in various health care systems.

This program takes a big-picture, systemic approach to suicide prevention. It understands that practitioners require broader support and education in order to best help their patients. The Zero Suicide Initiative accordingly focuses on fostering leadership, providing training, and continually improving the level of care that practitioners offer.

At Wyandot, this training has helped practitioners. Therapists report feeling as though their efforts matter more and are more valuable to patients. The Zero Suicide Initiative has also highlighted the importance of particular skills, such as refuting harmful cognitive distortions.

New Drug May Help Prevent Depression

 Dr. Brachman pic

Dr. Brachman
Image: fastcompany.com

Dr. Christie Mensch serves as a psychiatrist at Kansas City’s Wyandot Center, where she provides outpatient services to a diverse population. Since assuming this role, Dr. Christie Mensch has treated many patients with clinical depression.

Although clinical depression is treatable, provided the patient has access to the resources of talk therapy and medication, there is no reliable way to prevent depression. However, neuroscientist and entrepreneur Rebecca Brachman has identified a drug that may help increase the brain’s resistance to the kind of stress that can lead to depressive symptoms.

The discovery came when Dr. Brachman and her team were working with laboratory mice that had been given the drug ketamine, which is used to address severe depression. When placed into another study testing resistance to stress, these same mice were immune to the depressive symptoms that researchers expected from animals put through significantly stressful situations. This occurred even though the mice were weeks out of their ketamine regimen.

Dr. Brachman is currently working on translating this discovery into the development of a drug that physicians can use to prevent depression in persons going into stressful situations. While recipients of the drug will not be immune to the stress itself, the drug may enable faster recovery.