What are some examples of trauma?
Just about anything that causes a person to have this “fight, flight, or freeze” response can be considered traumatic. Some common triggers include: violent incidents, including intimate partner and community violence; physical abuse; natural disasters; war; medical trauma; sudden death of a loved one; terrorism.
Children are particularly vulnerable to trauma, especially when they do not feel safe or loved or have been exposed to “Adverse Childhood Experiences” (ACEs). Some ACEs include: physical or sexual abuse, the loss of a parent, living with a parent with a mental health or substance use disorder, or exposure to violence between parents.
A host of social inequities and conditions can also create fertile environments for trauma. These include racism, poverty, and xenophobia. People living in poverty, for example, can experience daily circumstances that threaten their sense of well-being, among them hunger and inadequate shelter. Immigrant communities face fears of deportation. The systematic racism, segregation and terrorism inflicted on Black Americans for more than 400 years has created a phenomenon that Dr. Joy DeGruy refers to as “post-traumatic slave syndrome.”
How does trauma affect Wyandotte County?
In 2014, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment published a study of the impact trauma has on every county in the state. Called the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), this study found that:
- 64% of Wyandotte County adults have experienced at least one ACE in their lifetimes, compared to 55% for all Kansas adults
- 30% grew up with substance abuse in their households (25% for all Kansans)
- 21% experienced violence between adults (15% for all Kansans)
- 19% were victims of physical abuse (15% for all Kansans)
In addition, the BRFSS study found that traumatic conditions like these have resulted in a disproportionate number of Wyandotte County residents at risk of depression, substance abuse, debilitating arthritis, and other chronic diseases. It concluded: Preventing ACE may have beneficial effects on the long-term health of Wyandotte County residents.”
Poverty and Trauma
Recent research demonstrates that poverty creates a number of circumstances that put people at risk of trauma. Children are especially vulnerable. In 2010, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network published a review of research that demonstrates a strong connection between poverty and trauma. Children living in poverty, it says, are exposed to more situations that threaten their safety and sense of well-being than children who grow up in more affluent households. “In addition to normal childhood stresses,” the paper says, “children in these circumstances are often exposed to violent crime in their neighborhood or school; gang and drug activity; house fires; victimization, incarceration, or death of a family member; family violence; and maltreatment.”
Many children who are exposed to these circumstances are more likely to find themselves in a heightened state of vigilance that can cause anxiety, irritability or aggression. They may also show an increased need for affection, support and reassurance. Left untreated, these reactions to trauma can interfere with a child’s daily routines, schoolwork, and ability to establish healthy relationships. In the long-run, they are more likely to experience chronic physical and mental health challenges such as depression, substance use disorders, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.