a woman stands with her face pressed up to a fence, looking depressed

The Link Between Trauma and Depression: Understanding the Connection

Do you feel hopeless, but you’re not sure why? Maybe everything seems to be going well in your life, but you still struggle with negative thoughts and sadness. Depression is a painful mood disorder that affects millions of people. And its causes aren’t always obvious. There’s a direct link between previous trauma and depression, which may explain why you’re feeling this way. Read on to learn more about how trauma and depression are connected and how you can feel better soon. 


Trauma takes many forms. It may look like childhood abuse from a guardian or a single frightening event like a car accident. Survivors of natural disasters – like hurricanes and earthquakes – may feel traumatized. And veterans often come home with intense memories of combat that make it hard to re-integrate into normal life. The roots of trauma may be different, but these events all make lasting impressions on us. 


Not everyone who experiences trauma develops depression. But studies show that people with a history of trauma have a higher risk. More than ¾ people with depression report having childhood trauma. They may also have more persistent and severe symptoms depending on how intense or severe their experiences were. 


At KarmaDocs and KarmaTMS, we see patients who feel intense sadness and hopelessness related to depression. These patients often have a traumatic history. Whether it’s childhood abuse, assault, sexual abuse, military-related experiences, or something else – we’ve seen it all. And we want you to have the resources to heal using integrative psychiatry. 


With trauma, there are two types that help differentiate experiences and how severe symptoms typically are. 

  • Type I Trauma is typically a single unanticipated event that leaves a lasting impact. This may be a car accident, an assault, or a natural disaster. 

  • Type 2 Trauma is when a person experiences several or even hundreds of traumatic events over time. Scholars call this “longstanding or extreme exposure to extreme external events” such as ongoing physical, verbal, or emotional abuse to children or adults. 


Both types of trauma can lead to depression, but Type II is typically associated with severe symptoms. Mental wellness is a complex and personal journey. If you’re noticing symptoms of depression, there are a lot of potential reasons – and possibly more than one. So let’s get into the research behind why early trauma may cause depression later in life. 

How Childhood Trauma Leads to Depression in Adults

All trauma is valid. If you’re recovering from a recent traumatic event, we hope you get the help you need. Childhood trauma can be especially harmful to kids and the adults they grow up to be. Kids are vulnerable; they’re developing their sense of judgment, and they need adults to protect them. When those needs are violated by childhood abuse, this trauma affects their… 

  • Sense of self-esteem 
  • Trust in self and others
  • Ability to understand their emotions 


Children may experience more type II trauma because they’re more vulnerable than adults. If someone you love is treating you badly, you might decide to cut off contact with them. But children rarely have that kind of autonomy, so they can be victims of repeated abuse. These repeated painful experiences hurt their abilities to form secure attachments to others – which is essential for creating security and safety. 


Neurologically, trauma early in life has a direct impact on the developing brain. Traumatic experiences are associated with changes in brain regions involved in emotional regulation. And these changes can lead to overactive stress responses in kids and adults. Being emotionally dysregulated isn’t just associated with depression but also with other mood disorders, anxiety, and more. 


If you have a known history of trauma, you may be more at risk for depression because of social and biological factors. But maybe you’re wondering if trauma that you don’t remember is influencing the way you feel today. Let’s talk about repressed trauma and depression. 

Can Repressed Trauma Cause Depression?

A lot of people wonder if they may have traumatic experiences that they don’t remember. It’s true, our memories are fickle. Some people call this dissociative amnesia. But the good news is that there’s little evidence for repressed memories or trauma.  


In fact, traumatic memories tend to be more vivid and intense than others. Some people even describe traumatic memories as if they’re reliving them in real-time. On the other hand, children’s brains are developing, and memories may be inconsistent or non-existent. 


Everyone’s memories are prone to distortions and suggestions. If you’re told by someone else that you experienced something as a kid, you may create those memories for yourself even if they never happened. Although there’s no research to support repressed memories, over half of the population believes in them. 


But can real trauma from childhood lead to depression?

Can Childhood Trauma Make You Depressed?

Childhood trauma can definitely contribute to depression in kids and adults. Over 75% of people with depression also have had a clinically significant traumatic experience.1 So, there’s a strong correlation between childhood trauma and depression. 


But keep in mind that depression is multi-factorial, which means that it’s caused by several factors. Check out these other causes of depression:

  • Familial factors like genetic trauma and family history
    • Hormonal imbalances, like a drop in estrogen or progesterone
    • Neurological changes can create imbalances in serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine
    • Medical conditions like chronic illnesses and pain
    • Stressful life events such as a divorce, getting let go, a diagnosis, or the death of a loved one
    • Certain personality traits are linked to depression, such as pessimism and low self-esteem
    • Social isolation is strongly linked to depression
  • Problems with sleep can lead to depressive symptoms because our brains need sleep to function


These are just a few reasons why you may be noticing depressive symptoms. If you feel sad, hopeless, or just lost lately – it’s important to get help. Notice that several of these causes have a medical basis. Getting assessed by a skilled psychiatrist or another mental health provider helps you rule out these physical causes. And partnering with a psychiatric team helps you get the best chance for recovery from depression. 


Speaking of recovery, what should you do if you’re dealing with depression as a direct result of trauma? Let’s talk about it.

Post-Traumatic Depression: 5 Strategies for Coping and Healing

Do you have a history of recent or childhood trauma that you think is linked to your depression? There are several steps you can take to start feeling better. Here are 5 strategies to help you start healing:

  • Seek professional help for depression. Did you know that you can qualify for depression even if you’ve only been having symptoms for two weeks? A lot of people think they have to keep suffering before they deserve help. But getting seen by a professional earlier helps you avoid the consequences of long-term depression. 

  • Think about your daily habits. One of the biggest things that determine how we feel is the things we do every day. Getting enough sleep, eating healthy, exercising, and finding ways to express yourself are all integrative strategies for giving yourself a boost. 

  • Use relaxation techniques when your thoughts overwhelm you. Meditation is a great way to give your brain a reset. Mindfulness strategies include deep breathing, guided meditation, yoga, and more. 

  • Join a support group for trauma. Find local or remote support groups for people who have had traumatic experiences similar to yours. For example, veteran trauma support groups are led by people with traumatic experiences who may have specific insights to help you heal. 

  • Challenge your negative thoughts as they come. It’s surprisingly hard to be aware of our own thoughts and feelings as they happen. But noticing that you’re in a negative thought spiral is the first step to helping yourself develop better thought patterns. Mindfulness techniques help with controlling emotions as well. 


Taking one or more of these steps can help you start the journey towards healing from post-traumatic depression. Now let’s talk about how we help patients using integrative psychiatry. 

An Integrative Approach to Treating Depression and Trauma

At KarmaTMS, we believe in treating the whole person, not just their symptoms. That’s why we use an integrative approach to psychiatry. We incorporate a range of evidence-based therapies and treatments to address the unique needs of each individual. These include… 

  • Medications 
  • Supportive psychotherapy 
  • Nutritional consultations
  • Mindfulness support 


One of the treatments we offer is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). TMS is a non-invasive therapy shown to be effective in treating depression – particularly in those who have not responded to other treatments.


If you’re ready to get professional help for post-traumatic depression, we’d love to partner with you on your healing journey. Our compassionate team is full of experts in mental health, and we take pride in giving personal guidance to each of our patients. To learn more about us, check out our homepage



 Negele A, Kaufhold J, Kallenbach L, Leuzinger-Bohleber M. Childhood Trauma and Its Relation to Chronic Depression in Adulthood. Depress Res Treat. 2015;2015:650804. doi: 10.1155/2015/650804. Epub 2015 Nov 29. PMID: 26693349; PMCID: PMC4677006.

Teicher MH, Samson JA. Childhood maltreatment and psychopathology: A case for ecophenotypic variants as clinically and neurobiologically distinct subtypes. Am J Psychiatry. 2013 Oct;170(10):1114-33. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2013.12070957. PMID: 23982148; PMCID: PMC3928064.

Paulus FW, Ohmann S, Möhler E, Plener P, Popow C. Emotional Dysregulation in Children and Adolescents With Psychiatric Disorders. A Narrative Review. Front Psychiatry. 2021 Oct 25;12:628252. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2021.628252. PMID: 34759846; PMCID: PMC8573252.

 Blix, I., Birkeland, M. S., & Thoresen, S. (2020). Vivid Memories of distant trauma: Examining the characteristics of trauma memories and the relationship with the centrality of event and posttraumatic stress 26 years after trauma. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 34(3), 678–684. https://doi.org/10.1002/acp.3650

 Mendez MF, Fras IA. The false memory syndrome: experimental studies and comparison to confabulations. Med Hypotheses. 2011 Apr;76(4):492-6. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2010.11.033. Epub 2010 Dec 21. PMID: 21177042; PMCID: PMC3143501.


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