February 27, 2012 Liz Borkowski, MPH 2Comment

There’s a growing body of research linking childhood trauma (abuse, neglect, family dysfunction, etc.) to impaired brain development and functioning. Maia Szalavitz at TIME’s Healthland blog describes the findings of new study by Harvard researchers (published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences):

Now, in the largest study yet to use brain scans to show the effects of child abuse, researchers have found specific changes in key regions in and around the hippocampus in the brains of young adults who were maltreated or neglected in childhood. These changes may leave victims more vulnerable to depression, addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the study suggests.

CDC’s Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study enrolled more than 17,000 members of study partner Kaiser Permanente in San Diego between 1995 and 1997 and has been tracking their medical status. Researchers have found higher childhood stress to be associated with a greater risk of several negative health conditions and behaviors, from alcoholism and early initiation of smoking to depression and ischemic heart disease. The website ACEs Too High, run by journalist Jane Stevens, collects news and research related to ACEs, and one of the site’s recent pieces (via Reporting on Health) profiles the efforts of Tarpon Springs, Florida to address trauma as a community.

Tarpon Springs has launched a “trauma-informed community initiative,” Peace 4 Tarpon, and its mission is:

Tarpon Springs Trauma Informed Community Initiative’s mission is to provide everyone in our community with information on the causes and consequences of trauma, public and provider education, resource assistance and advocacy for appropriate prevention and intervention services. To effect long-term community improvement we work to increase awareness of issues facing members of our community who have been traumatized to promote healing.

The Initiative and community signed a memorandum of understanding a year ago, and Stevens reports that several shift have already occurred, including the following:

The local housing authority is setting up a trauma-awareness training program for its staff called: “Why Are You Yelling at Me When I’m Only Trying to Help You?” Housing authority clients are often already traumatized due to loss of jobs, health and/or their homes. People who are suffering the effects of trauma are in fight-flight-or fright mode and often their automatic response in a conversation is anger. If a staff member understands this, they can work with the clients more effectively.

… The Pinellas Ex-Offender Re-Entry Coalition used the CDC’s Adverse Childhood Experience questionnaire to discover that the overwhelming majority of people in its substance-abuse, batterers-intervention and sex-offender groups had suffered severe trauma. The coalition counselors changed their program, with the result that the ex-offenders feel more optimistic, and that they have more tools to turn their lives around.

It can be depressing to read the results of ACES research and see how lasting and pernicious the effects of childhood trauma are. If communities can figure out how to reduce some of these impacts, they can improve their overall health.

2 thoughts on “A Florida community strengthens responses to trauma

  1. A difficulty in dealing with this (which no one who tries to deal with it doesn’t know) is that bullies try to inflict trauma as a way of controlling their victims.

    So do some politicians.

    Threatening and traumatizing people by putting non-violent drug offenders in prison is a big business that makes our society weaker.

  2. I applaud a Community that finally understands the significance of Trauma and how it effects everyone. Developing an understanding within the community at large and not just within the Behavioral Sciences Community is the key to moving in a successful direction of real healing.
    As the collective efforts of many start to develop a community culture of awareness and support, a shift will start to take place and change within the next generation and will yeild many positive and measurable results. Congratulations to Tarpon Springs and all the supporting Agencies and Individuals for coming together,making the effort and taking the lead to a healthier and more productive community.

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