We Need to Treat PTSD in US Communities

Jen Christensen from CNN highlighted the effects of violence on the people living in violent communities.  The issue of PTSD really came into the American conscious as a result of soldiers returning from war.  So, we understand that violence exposure in war setting has a negative effect.  But we have turned a blind eye to exposure in violent American cities.  As Christensen reports:

A growing number of programs treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in war veterans. But far fewer treat Americans who suffer from the PTSD that comes with their ZIP code. And this kind of PTSD may be affecting even more people.

PTSD can directly hurt a person’s brain by messing with the amygdala — the part of the brain that triggers a chemical to release to help you decide between “fight or flight” in a threatening situation.

If someone is exposed to prolonged, repetitive, or extreme trauma, the amygdala stays in alert mode. And the neurons, the pathways to this part of the brain, lose their ability to recover.

A person’s memory becomes corrupted like a bad computer hard drive and it can hurt a person’s ability to separate out new experiences and determine whether they are safe or dangerous.

The longer a person stays in the hyper-vigilant mode, the greater the chance of permanent damage. In a child, damage can be magnified and lead to problems like dissociative identity disorder.

Residents in communities with violence have actually shown higher rates of PTSD than war veterans

After interviewing some 8,000 people in Atlanta, Emory University professor of psychiatry Dr. Kerry Ressler and his colleagues say that they are seeing evidence of higher rates of PTSD in this urban population than in war veterans.

“It’s outrageous. This is — well, it is not an epidemic of violence, that is not the right term for this. This is a pandemic,” Ressler said.

An epidemic is concentrated in a particular region. A pandemic is spread over a wider geographic area and impacts a much larger population.

And this is having serious effects beyond just PTSD:

Another study looking at local violence in Chicago found that children who lived within 1,500 feet of a homicide had lower verbal and impulse control scores a week after the incident happened. Tests of older students showed similar results.

Christensen also quotes yours truly addressing one of the central tenets of Cure Violence – that if you can prevent exposure, you can prevent the spread of the violent behavior:

“If we can stop the violence and stop people’s exposure to the violence early, we reduce its impact from spreading through the community,” said Charlie Ransford, Cure Violence spokesman.