City needs sustainable, unified psychological trauma response system

 ·  Jule Pattison-Gordon, The Bay State Banner   ·   Link to Article

City Councilor Ayanna Pressley held a hearing last week aimed at establishing a coordinated and sustainable system for psychological trauma response in Boston.

The devastating effects of homicides, shootings, domestic abuse and other traumas last far past the incident and affect more than the immediate victims.

Currently various city agencies and community organizations offer services, but are not knitted together into a collaborative network, so many residents remain unaware of resources available to them.

“It is still not at a point where there is a standard protocol whereby I could provide you with a flowchart for, if someone has experienced or is exposed to trauma, this is who to call,” said Pressley. She said the city needs a unified protocol for service provision that will outlast the individuals currently doing trauma work.

Trauma that continues to wound

More than 150 studies have found that experiencing trauma in childhood increases the likelihood that an individual will later develop health problems and health-adverse behaviors, said Renee Boynton-Jarrett, MD, a primary care pediatrician at Boston Medical Center.

Kaiser Permanente and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Adverse Childhood Experiences Study surveyed more than 13,000 adults on their exposure to parental mental health issues, physical or sexual abuse and other traumatic experiences before age 18. The study concluded that adults with four or more such experiences were four to twelve times more likely to experience alcoholism, depression, drug abuse and suicide attempts. Boynton-Jarrett said that the difference in life expectancy between these individuals and those who did not report adverse childhood experiences was 19 years.

They also carried higher risk of obesity, heart disease and several other conditions. One cause, said Boynton-Jarrett: chronic stress’ effect on the body.

“We know definitively that early childhood experiences have a profound impact not just on your health and wellbeing during childhood but on your long-term health outcomes,” she said.

Trauma also interrupts a child’s individual to perform well in school, said Karla Estrada, deputy superintendent of student support services for Boston Public Schools.

“It’s not something that gets left behind in order for academic development to move forward,” she said.

Ripple effects

A homicide affects the victim’s entire social web, from immediate loved ones to neighbors or coworkers adjusting to the absence of that person or children adjusting to the reality of death.

“Trauma is not just [affecting] that person,” said Pressley. “It’s the bodega owner that no longer sees that person, it’s the office, it’s the school community, it’s the empty seat at the dinner table.”

One task for trauma workers is to determine the groups impacted. For instance, said Atyia Martin, Boston’s Chief Resilience Officer, if a student moved between schools, outreach to both schools may be needed.

“It’s one of the biggest myths we have about trauma that it is an individual experience. Impact of trauma has ripple effects on the community that are often invisible, silent and unaddressed and unvalidated,” said Boynton-Jarrett.

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