Is anybody thinking about what our children and youth are going through during these times?
I mean, I know that we are all adjusting to the disruptions, and in some cases devastation, the past few months have brought us. But, have we stopped long enough to really pay attention to what all of this is doing to the generation, which represents all of our futures?
Just think about the major things that have happened in the lives of young people in the past few months: 1) an abrupt closing of schools; the major center of the educational and social lives of students; 2) being forced to “shelter in place”, indefinitely, cutoff from friends and extended family; 3) most likely, experiencing the illness or death of a loved one from the virus; 4) hearing about some strange symptom of COVID-19 that only happens to children; 6) the most recent murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Rayshard Brooks; 7) the protests and violence; 8) getting “the talk” from adults who have a never-seen fear and sense of urgency in their eyes; 9) in addition to schools, playgrounds, pools, and camps are closed; 10) being cut off from a consistent source of breakfast and lunch and; 11) being petrified with the thought of having to go back in a school building. I could go on, but I won’t.
As you can see, the point is that we have undeniably, and unfairly, ignored the well-being and mental health of our children and young people, while we are all going in circles trying to figure out our own lives. It has been well-documented that collective trauma is a real phenomenon.
What would make us think that, collectively and individually, our children are not subject to the same principle?
This is especially true for Black people, and in this case Black children and youth.
The Washington Post in a May 29th Opinion column, “A 2019 study in the Lancet found that when police kill an unarmed Black person, other Black people in that state suffer tangible harm to their collective mental health. The study found no similar effect with white people.” We all really need to learn more about collective trauma.
The impacts are also emotional and behavioral. Traumatized people are at higher risk for depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders, substance abuse, aggression, and future victimization. Over 90% of adolescents hospitalized for psychiatric problems have a history of trauma, and more than 70% of adults in substance abuse treatment programs have had at least one traumatic experience. Most relevant to this piece: more than nine out of every ten young people involved in the juvenile justice system report trauma.
Trauma sticks with us for life; it doesn’t go away. Trauma sticks in the body, and contributes to dysregulated emotions, troubled behavior, relational problems, and physical illness, making it difficult for traumatized young people to thrive.
This is so important for Black boys and girls. Trauma of the magnitude these young folks are experiencing happens through the lens of their cultural experience of being an African American; their background, their community, and their methods of communication and language.
The research shows that there are three (3) ways trauma is related to race, and Blacks hit the trifecta with trauma. First, African Americans experience specific events of danger related to race that overwhelm the nervous system and require us to recover. These dangers may be real or perceived discrimination, threats of harm and injury, police incidents, and humiliating and shaming events. Secondly, African Americans also experience danger by witnessing harm and injury to other African Americans because of real or perceived racism (collective trauma).
A third way African Americans experience danger related to race is living in difficult social conditions because of poverty and race, and traumatic events occur because of these conditions. Segregation by race and social class is common everywhere in the United States. Living in Black and poor neighborhoods increases one’s risk of experiencing traumatic events like community violence, police incidents, and domestic violence, and it increases the risk of experiencing secondary traumas in witnessing these dangers.
As always with this column, “it ain’t rocket science.” Our young people have been so neglected, and like everything else, the times are “pulling back the covers” and revealing all that is terribly wrong and broken in this country. Our precious children have been collateral damage in a bitter war between racially and polarized adults, who consistently make bad decisions on their behalf.
Alas, all is not lost! We are creating “New Normals” in every aspect of our lives. We can easily add the most important treasure to our vision boards. We only need individual and political will, and recovery from trauma can be achieved with specific interventions that improve coping skills and decrease re-experiencing the trauma.
In the immortal words of Gil Scott-Heron, “We’ve got to do something to save the children. Soon it will be their turn to try and save the world. Right now they seem to play such a small part of the things that they soon be right at the heart of…we’ve got to save the children.”
Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one. Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!
The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. I do not dispense medical advice or prescribe the use of any technique as a replacement form of treatment for physical, mental or medical problems by your doctor either directly or indirectly. Glenn Ellis, is a Harvard Medical School Research Bioethics Fellow and author of Which Doctor?, and Information is the Best Medicine. Ellis is an active media contributor on Health Equity and Medical Ethics.
For more good health information visit: www.glennellis.com.