About the Issues
NEW RESEARCH ABOUT TRAUMA IN LOW INCOME NEIGHBORHOODS.
Although it has not been widely publicized, research reveals that trauma and PTSD rates of low-income residents are nearly double that of returning combat veterans. Dr. Kerry Ressler (Chief Scientific Officer at McLean Hospital) conducted a series of studies at Grady Hospital in Atlanta, surveying over 1000 individuals. He and his team found that 90% reported incidents of trauma and another 46% suffered from PTSD. According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, PTSD rates of returning combat veterans from the Iraq war ranged from 11-20%, meaning that PTSD rates experienced by residents in America’s low income neighborhoods are double that of soldiers serving in active war zones.
The barrage of trauma incidents (e.g. gun violence, witnessing murder) is devastating for children in these communities, particularly as it relates to brain development. New research shows that exposure to repeated episodes of trauma has a profound effect on the development of young brains: a brain developing in unsafe conditions responds by optimizing the flight/fight capacity for survival, at the expense of other developing areas. Dr. Bruce Perry, an internationally recognized expert on childhood trauma, similarly found that infants and young children exposed to threats develop overly reactive stress response systems. This conclusion was also reached by the University of Chicago Urban Labs, which asserts that when children are repeatedly hit by environmental stress, their brains don’t have a chance to recover, meaning that permanent damage to their brain structure and function can take place.
A recent piece in The Chicago Tribune further explored this connection, finding that community violence and PTSD left children hypervigilant, a condition which can lead to a host of health issues, including depression, anxiety, heart disease, and stroke. In fact, the Center for Disease Control labelled childhood trauma (scientifically referred to as ACE or Adverse Childhood Experiences) as a public health issue in November, 2019.
Making matters even more urgent, new cutting-edge scientific research suggests that trauma and PTSD can be passed down genetically to offspring. In a study conducted by Emory University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, experiments revealed that trauma (experienced by lab animals) was exhibited in offspring, even though the young subjects had not experienced trauma firsthand. This phenomenon has also been studied with children of Holocaust survivors (who exhibited PTSD symptoms even though they did not experience the trauma firsthand).
If children in low income communities have inherited a predisposition to PSTD, and those same children are assaulted with daily violence often endemic to low income communities, this, according to Dr. Ressler, creates a perfect storm for a wide range of mental health issues. Roseanna Ander, Founding Executive Director of both the UChicago Crime Lab and Education Lab, puts it this way: “People talk about income inequality, but something that gets even less attention and is even more fundamental is inequality in basic safety.”
Given the overwhelming research and burgeoning awareness around how trauma profoundly affects residents in low income neighborhoods, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, the Surgeon General of California, recently called for all school aged children to be screened for Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE). Other advocates are now urging that all major educational initiatives for low income children be paired with trauma counseling
Interesting work with respect to trauma-informed education is underway. Of particular interest is the work of Dr. Perry, who has found that daily positive interactions with an adult (e.g. a trauma-informed coach or teacher or afterschool program leader) can have profound healing effects upon a child. Dr. Perry goes one step further: in a report on the power of play, Dr. Perry asserts that one of the most effective ways not only to heal the brain, but also to aid in its development, is through patterned, repetitive, and rhythmic-based activities such as dance, yoga, and rowing.
In the words of Arshay Cooper, the writer of the memoir which inspired this documentary, “There was something about the water that gave us peace. That was something that we all had never felt before. And we all needed that.”