Academic journal article European Journal of Psychotraumatology

Prevention and Public Health Approaches to Trauma and Traumatic Stress: A Rationale and a Call to Action

Academic journal article European Journal of Psychotraumatology

Prevention and Public Health Approaches to Trauma and Traumatic Stress: A Rationale and a Call to Action

Article excerpt

Responsible Editor: Marit Sijbrandij, VU University, Netherlands.

Copyright: © 2016 Kathryn M. Magruder et al. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, allowing third parties to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format, and to remix, transform, and build upon the material, for any purpose, even commercially, under the condition that appropriate credit is given, that a link to the license is provided, and that you indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.

Received: 10 September 2015; Revised: 1 January 2016; Accepted: 3 January 2016; Published: 18 March 2016

Competing interests and funding: There is no conflict of interest in the present study for any of the authors.

*Correspondence to: Kathryn M. Magruder, Department of Psychiatry, Medical University of South Carolina, 19 Hagood Avenue, Suite 601, Charleston SC 29425 USA, Email:

This paper is part of the Special Issue: Trauma occurs in social contexts. More papers from this issue can be found at

For the abstract or full text in other languages, please see Supplementary files under 'Article Tools'

The field of trauma and traumatic stress is dominated by studies on treatments for individuals who experience adversity from traumatic experiences. While effective individual treatment is vitally important, we should not neglect the opportunity to consider trauma in a public health perspective. Such a perspective will help to develop prevention approaches as well as extend the reach of early interventions and treatments. In this paper, we provide an introduction to a public health approach to trauma and traumatic stress and identify key opportunities for trauma professionals and our professional societies (such as the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies [ISTSS] and the European Society for Traumatic Stress Studies [ESTSS]) to increase our societal impact by adopting such an approach. A recent panel, organized by ISTSS and presented at the 2015 ESTSS conference in Vilnius, Lithuania, addressed prevention and public health approaches to trauma and traumatic stress. Based on that panel, the current paper summarizes key findings of a recently completed report of the ISTSS Task Force on Trauma and Public Health and discusses implications for research, practice, and policy. The special case of children is explored, and a case example of the Norwegian terrorist attacks in 2011 illustrates the potential for improving our response to community level traumatic events. We also discuss how professional organizations such as ESTSS and ISTSS, as well as individual trauma professionals, can and should play an important role in promoting a public health approach.

Public health approach

In this section, we provide an introduction to several key concepts and argue for their inclusion in the research, practice, and policy agenda of the trauma field: the public health impact of trauma, the prevention model, current progress and challenges in designing and implementing trauma-informed services, secondary prevention, and early intervention for individuals and communities exposed to a range of types of trauma.

Public health impact of trauma

Trauma is highly prevalent throughout the world. Data from the WHO World Mental Health Surveys of adults show that at some time in their life, 9% of all respondents had experienced collective violence, 17% had experienced interpersonal violence, 26% had witnessed violence, 23% had experienced sexual or partner violence, 36% accidents or injuries, and 41% other types of trauma (Kessler & Üstün, 2008). Considering all traumas, 70% of all respondents had experienced at least one type. …

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