First, I am sorry I am a week late. My husband and I are expecting a baby and she devours energy like our dog devours peanut butter.
I claimed in my last post that trauma is an epidemic which cannot be successfully addressed on the individual level alone. This week I want to offer you some more evidence that this is the case.
As a refresher, this is an excerpt of what I wrote last:
To quote Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk, trauma is a “hidden epidemic.” As he writes:
“…trauma remains a much larger public health issue, arguably the greatest threat to our national well-being… In today’s world your ZIP code, even more than your genetic code, determines whether you will lead a safe and healthy life. People’s income, family structure, housing, employment, and educational opportunities affect not only their risk of developing traumatic stress but also their access to effective help to address it.”
There are things we can and should do at the individual level to heal from trauma. However, trauma is a burden on our society perpetuated by poverty and other systemic factors. As long as our neighborhood, race, or gender continues to predict the likelihood we will suffer a trauma, changes need to take place at the community level, at the systemic level.
So, you’ve heard it from me; you’ve heard it from Dr. Van Der Kolk. Poverty and race predict trauma. (For now, assume my definition poverty is a lack of resources.)
But you don’t need to take our word for it.
In a review written by The Family-Informed Trauma Treatment Center at the University of Maryland, this was their summary:
Families living in urban poverty often encounter multiple traumas over many years. Further, they are less likely than families living in more affluent communities to have access to the resources that may facilitate the successful negotiation of their traumatic experiences. Thus, many families have difficulty adapting.
Being a member of a minority also increases individuals’ risk for trauma. People of color are more likely to be victims of violence and hate crimes. (See Carter’s Research Group) Recently the average annual number of hate crimes have totaled around 259,700 – the majority of which have been motivated by racial bias (between 53 and 64%). (See the U.S. Department of Justice)
These inequalities indicate that there are patterns beyond the individual actions which lead to victimization. The treatment of this epidemic, therefore, must not begin and end with the work of therapists, counselors, and psychiatrists. We must consider how we each must act to relieve the suffering of our brothers and sisters. A safer, more just, more prosperous community must result in less work for therapists like me.
For my friends who follow Christ, you know that you and I have an obligation to actively love our neighbors. “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” (See Galatians 5) You’ll remember that Jesus answered the question “Who is my neighbor?” by telling a story in which a victim of violence was cared for by a man of a different ethnic group and religious sect.
Any action that you can take to address poverty and racism will strike at this epidemic of trauma. You might consider:
- Learning more about the experiences of others who are from a different socioeconomic or racial group through reading and relationships
- Starting conversations among your friends, family, church, or community organizations
- Encouraging leaders and policy-makers in your community to act on issues addressing poverty and systemic racism
- Encouraging leaders and policy-makers to make quality mental health for the under-resourced a priority.
- Becoming a foster parent or supporting foster parents in you community
- Supporting a trustworthy non-profit or ministry addressing poverty and/or racial reconciliation with your time, prayers, and money