Women's College Research Institute

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Providing trauma-informed care to reduce health-care costs

Fall 2011

Dr. Catherine Classen

One in three people has a history of childhood neglect or abuse and for many, the experiences continue to haunt them throughout their lives.

"It's not just the psychological impact," says Dr. Catherine Classen, senior scientist at Women's College Research Institute, psychologist at Women's College Hospital and associate professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Toronto.

"People who have experienced trauma have much greater risk of chronic disease, obesity, smoking, drug and alcohol abuse, work absenteeism, teenage pregnancy – and the list goes on."

It's a problem that goes far beyond the individual victims, impacting health-care resources. Few health-care workers understand the links between past trauma and today's mental and physical health problems and even fewer know how to accommodate the special needs that these patients present. And because our system fails them, people with trauma histories often avoid treatment until they are very ill, or they continue unhealthy patterns that bring them back into hospital time after time.

"The extent of this problem is enormous, as is the impact on our health-care system," says Classen. "But on the other hand, if we can do something about trauma and how our system works to treat these patients, we will have a big impact on society as a whole."

That's why Classen and her colleagues at Women's College Research Institute – Drs. Robin Mason and Janice Du Mont – want to improve health-care providers' knowledge of how interpersonal trauma relates to addictions, violence and chronic illness.

With a recent grant awarded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Classen, Mason and Du Mont, along with Dr. Clare Pain from Mount Sinai Hospital and Dr. Carol Stalker from Wilfred Laurier University, are hosting an interdisciplinary meeting of national and international trauma experts. The group's aim is to identify knowledge that health-care providers need (and often lack) to adequately recognize and care for survivors of interpersonal trauma.

"This project will lead to the development of a self-assessment tool for health-care providers, which is just the beginning of a larger program of research" says Classen. "Ultimately this meeting will lead to the development of tools and resources that will help health-care providers treat trauma survivors in a way that enables them to effectively utilize the health-care system."


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