International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

A Public Health Approach to Trauma

In November 2013, the Trauma and Public Health Task Force was appointed by the President of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS). This Task Force was established by the Board of Directors to further two key ISTSS strategies: to establish traumatic stress as a major public health issue for research, practice, and policy at all levels (e.g., from community clinics to national and international governing agencies), and to frame and promote traumatic stress as a public health issue to colleagues, policymakers, and the general public. It was an outgrowth of the Strategic Plan that the Board recently adopted. In particular, the formation of the Task Force addressed a particular component of the Strategic Plan (Goal #3, Societal Impact) that calls for ISTSS to contribute to the health and resilience of people and communities in the face of traumatic events by: promoting public awareness and informing public policy. 

The Task Force was charged to identify opportunities to collaborate with other organizations with similar interests related to trauma and public health, and as a longer term goal, to develop concrete proposals for how ISTSS can accomplish these goals. In developing these proposals, the Task Force was encouraged to consider resources available (including those of other entities that can be brought to bear, staff resources, volunteer involvement, etc.), and resources needed to accomplish these proposals.

The Task Force met by telephone over the course of a year and divided the work into three components:
  1. A white paper to establish the relationship between trauma and public health and create a foundation from which recommendations and Board actions could be taken both immediately and over time;
  2. Recommendations for consideration by the ISTSS Board. These recommendations are based on the white paper and recognize feasibility and immediacy. These recommendations are merely a starting point and future ISTSS leaders may consider additional actions in support of promoting trauma as a public health issue; and
  3. A set of case examples to exemplify public health approaches to addressing trauma will also be developed over time to accompany the white paper and help readers understand the potential broad reach of a public health approach to trauma.
The pages that follow include the white paper and the recommendations of the Task Force.