Addressing community trauma
Ignoring underlying trauma works against our communities health and well-being
Another week, another day, another mass shooting in the United States. Just like other horrific trends e.g., drug overdose, suicide, we are at risk of becoming desensitized to their frequency and the overwhelming loss of life they cause. Today’s post is not about what to do about these issues as I have written about these in different ways before. Today, I want to talk a bit about trauma.
Trauma usually refers to a deeply distressing or disturbing experience that overwhelms our ability to cope. Traumatic events can range from natural disasters and accidents to interpersonal violence and abuse. The impact of trauma can be far-reaching, contributing to a range of physical and mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide. PTSD, a common mental health disorder that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, affects an estimated 7-8% of people in the US. Trauma disrupts the brain's normal functioning, leading to changes in how a person perceives and responds to the world around them. While recovery from trauma is possible, it often requires time, support, and a commitment to healing.
Trauma is more common than you might think, with an estimated 70% of people around the world experiencing some form of trauma in their lifetime. In the United States, this translates to about 61% of men and 51% of women having experienced at least one traumatic event.
And it comes up a lot in conversations around mental health.
I had the privilege to be able to speak at this week’s Florida Blue Community Health Symposium. After my session, I stuck around for the following session, which was on a youth led program put on by the Boys and Girls club called “mental health myth busters.” The youth shared a lot about what they do everyday to help advance mental health in their communities. They got a question around what they were facing that worked against their mental health - unsurprisingly the issue of trauma came up. Like many groups, they put their youth through training to be “trauma informed.”
The recognition of the impact of trauma on health has led to the development of trauma-informed care, which is now a crucial component of medical and other community based services. If you are not familiar with trauma informed care, it’s basically an approach that recognizes the prevalence and impact of trauma and seeks to create a safe and supportive environment for individuals to heal and recover. You see it used all over as a way to better prepare those individuals who interact with people who may or may not have experienced trauma. You just never know who has been through a traumatic event.
While trauma exists at the individual level, it also exists at the community level. We often talk frequently about adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), but there are adverse community experiences too. Adverse community experiences and adverse childhood experiences are both forms of adversity that can impact an individual's health and well-being. However, they differ in several ways. Adverse childhood experiences refer to traumatic or stressful events that occur during childhood, such as abuse, neglect, or household dysfunction. These experiences can have long-term effects on physical and mental health, behavior, and social functioning. In contrast, adverse community experiences refer to the traumatic or stressful events that occur within a community or social context, such as exposure to violence, poverty, or discrimination. While adverse childhood experiences are focused on individual experiences during childhood, adverse community experiences are focused on the experiences of individuals within a broader social context. Adverse community experiences can impact individuals of all ages, and can contribute to chronic stress and trauma that can have lasting effects on health and well-being.
Every time there is a mass shooting, our communities are exposed to potentially traumatic stimuli. Every time there’s a life lost, it has a ripple effect on us, our families, and throughout our communities. I was shocked and saddened this week to see the Kaiser Family Foundation study that found 1 in 5 American families have lost a family member to gun violence. If we do not pay attention to the amount of trauma we are exposed to, it’s only going to lead to bigger downstream mental health and substance abuse issues.
What actions can we take?
Learn about the various training programs on trauma. There’s a lot of programs out there to look at, and almost all of them, as long as they are using the science, are going to be useful. Be informed and know how to talk about trauma. You never know who around you has been impacted. There are some great programs on trauma informed care listed on SAMHSA’s website.
Develop policy that allows for resources to be rapidly deployed to communities impacted by traumatic events. After experiencing a traumatic event, individuals may require a variety of resources to help them cope and recover. These resources can include access to mental health services such as therapy and counseling, medical care for injuries sustained during the event, and social support from friends, family, and community resources. Additionally, financial support and legal assistance may be necessary to manage the financial strain and legal issues that can arise from a traumatic event. Depending on the situation, individuals may also require access to safety and security measures such as shelter or protection orders. The specific resources needed will vary depending on the individual and the nature of the event, but access to these resources can be essential in promoting recovery and helping individuals manage the emotional and practical challenges of coping with trauma.
Be aware. Being aware of trauma in others is important because it can help us better understand their behaviors and reactions, and can inform how we interact with them. By being aware of the potential for trauma in others, we can approach them with empathy, understanding, and compassion, and offer support and resources that can help them manage their symptoms and promote healing. Ideally, these actions can ultimately contribute to a more supportive and compassionate society, and help individuals who have experienced trauma to feel seen, heard, and valued.
Traumatic events aren’t going away any time soon, sadly. Let’s do the best we can to be prepared on how to respond to others, knowing there’s a high chance someone around you has been through something pretty traumatic.
Wow, that 1 in 5 families having lost a member to gun violence statistic is truly haunting.