A Look Inside: Lasting Impacts of Trauma and Abuse


Learnings from our Most Recent Community Assessment

We all want to feel safe in our homes, neighborhoods, and relationships, but many of our neighbors experience times when they don’t feel safe. Trauma resulting from experiences like abuse, homelessness and violence can have lasting, negative impacts on individuals. Individual traumas can be compounded by larger community conditions, like a lack of safe and affordable housing, community violence or discrimination.

During United Way of the Midlands’ community assessment this summer, trauma and abuse emerged as themes that were directly impacting the health of individuals living in poverty.

About our Community Needs Assessment

As United Way of the Midlands works toward our goals, we remain as committed as ever to maximizing the impact of your dollars. We want to ensure they are funding programs that address the most pressing needs in our community – and the needs that are going unseen or unmet.

Because it’s been five years since our last inventory of community needs, we knew it was time to reaffirm our understanding of the issues affecting people in the metro. With funding from Mutual of Omaha and the Omaha Community Foundation, we conducted a mixed methods study that identified community priorities and ultimately validated our areas of investment. The study consisted of a structured review of more than 90 articles and studies, a sophisticated analysis of census data, data collection among community programs and more than 50 hours of interviews.


So, what exactly is trauma?

According to the American Psychological Association, trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Traumatic events experienced before the age of 18 are called “Adverse Childhood Experiences” – known as ACEs — and include things like neglect, abuse, divorce, parental mental illness or substance abuse, incarceration and domestic violence.

13.4% of adults in the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro have acknowledged that they’ve been hit, slapped, pushed, kicked or otherwise hurt by an intimate partner.

How does trauma impact individuals?

Immediately after a traumatic event, individuals typically experience shock and denial. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. A number of studies have tied trauma resulting from negative childhood experiences to health and social challenges. Having more Adverse Childhood Experiences is associated with poor physical health, experiencing mental health challenges, substance abuse and early death. Trauma can also cause PTSD and anxiety, creating challenges in daily life.

Adverse community environments such as a lack of affordable and safe housing, community violence, systemic discrimination, and limited access to social and economic mobility build upon one another, creating negative “soil” that poses challenges to people seeking to grow and thrive.

How are trauma and abuse connected to poverty?

While people across income levels experience trauma, there is an interrelationship between poverty and trauma. The stress of living in poverty can contribute to mental health struggles and interpersonal conflict.

Of the people who report having experienced intimate partner violence in the past 5 years in the Omaha metro, 41% live at 200% of the poverty line or below, while only 29% of the population lives at 200% poverty line overall (CHNA).     

In our dialogue with residents in our community through our community assessment, many of them shared a personal history involving trauma as adults and/or children, such as Annie.

Annie’s Story

When Annie was 11, she was involved in a fire accident that left her hospitalized for over a year. She remembers being in great shock and not feeling pain or understanding how bad it was until much later on.

“I remember my mom came (into the hospital room) and she just fell down crying, she fell to the floor crying,” Annie said. “And I was like, ‘Mom, it’s okay. It’s not that bad.’ I didn’t know how bad it was; I didn’t know what I looked like.”

Annie was put on disability, but while she was in her dad’s custody, he would steal her checks and use the money to make expensive purchases and participate in illegal activities. She then briefly entered foster care before ending up in the custody of her mother.

After moving out and living on her own, Annie became pregnant. The father of her child was mentally and verbally abusive, so she sought refuge at a domestic violence shelter, where her daughter was born. Annie’s anxiety, depression, PTSD and bipolar disorder affects multiple aspects of her daily life – from her fear of driving to parenting. She acknowledges these barriers, but Annie is focused on working hard to raise her daughter in the “way she wishes she was raised.”

BUT trauma and abuse do not always lead to poor outcomes.

Simple things like spending time with neighbors and families, volunteering, and sharing food together can make a big difference and help improve the psychological well-being of individuals living in our region. So can supporting parents – especially parents who experienced adversity as children themselves – as they face the challenges of raising children.

Take Annie. She is committed to building a better life for her daughter, and the support she’s receiving along the way from organizations like the Nebraska Children’s Home Society is making a positive impact in her life.

“No one told me how to pay bills, and what an OPPD bill looks like or you got to put a deposit down to get your lights turned on or to get gas and water turned on. No one ever taught or showed me that or even told me about it,” she said. “(Through) the class I’m taking now, Bridges Out of Poverty, I’m learning that. Things are going to be a lot different because I’m learning a lot. And when you know better you do better.”

And your investments in United Way of the Midlands make a difference!

When you invest in United Way of the Midlands, 92 cents of every dollar goes right back into local nonprofit programs that form a circle of support for people like Annie. Because we know how important programs serving survivors of trauma and abuse are, UWM supports 9 programs that provide behavioral healthcare, 7 programs that provide family support and 4 programs that serve survivors of domestic violence.

In addition to investing your dollars in area programs, United Way of the Midlands is also part of a collaborative community effort to implement a Community Health Improvement Plan to address the overarching priority of mental health across the Omaha-Council Bluffs region.

Funded Programs: Trauma and abuse

Family Support

  • Child Saving Institute – Parenting Program
  • Father Flanagan’s Boys Home – Boys Town of Iowa’s In-Home Family Services
  • Heartland Family Service – Community Education
  • Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska – Centers for Healthy Families
  • Nebraska Children’s Home Society – Home Visitation, Healthy Families America
  • Visiting Nurse Association – Maternal and Infant Home Health Care
  • Visiting Nurse Association – Maternal Child Community Home Visitation

Behavioral Health

  • Charles Drew Health Center – Charles Drew Health Center, Inc. School-Based Intervention
  • Child Saving Institute, Inc. – Child and Adolescent Therapy
  • Community Alliance Rehabilitation Services – Peer Support Shelter Initiative
  • Completely KIDS – Mental Health Services
  • Heartland Family Services – Professional Counseling, Behavioral Health
  • Jewish Federation of Omaha – Mental Health Care and Counseling
  • Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska, Inc. – LFS Behavioral Health Programs
  • Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska, Inc. – Rsafe Therapies
  • The Salvation Army – NE – Community Counseling and Wellspring Program

Domestic Violence

  • Catholic Charities Diocese of Des Moines Council Bluffs – Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Program
  • Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Omaha – Domestic Violence Services, The Shelter
  • Heartland Family Service – Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Program
  • Women’s Center for Advancement (WCA) – Domestic Abuse/Sexual Assault Safety Services

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, call one of these hotlines to get help today.

Women’s Center for Advancement

24/7 Hotline: 402-345-7273

Heartland Family Service

24/7 Hotline: 800-523-3666

Catholic Charities

24/7 Hotline: 402-558-5700

Catholic Charities Des Moines

24/7 Hotline: 712-328-0266

If you’re in need of counseling, food pantries, utility assistance or another human service, our 2-1-1 Helpline is here for you. Simply call 2-1-1 or text your zip code to 898211 to find local programs that will help you address challenges by providing basic needs, education and financial supports.

About the Author

Brayton is the Manager of Communications at United Way of the Midlands. She spends most of her days writing press releases, letters, brochures and more, but she wouldn’t have it any other way! She loves to travel and is always daydreaming about her next adventure. When she’s at home, you’ll most likely find her hanging out with her family and friends, eating chocolate or reading a good book.


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