Addressing Community Trauma
We tend to think about trauma as a single event, like a car accident, shooting or anything else that sends a person to the hospital. But there are lots of persistent, everyday negative events that can hurt a person’s health in much the same way.
Even though they’re not as obviously dramatic, issues like unemployment, living in a home with lead paint and not being able to get enough to eat regularly, can hurt a person’s health just as much as a stabbing or fall. That’s what experts call community trauma: the cumulative harm that comes from dealing with lots of significant challenges in your life. Over time, this additive damage leaves wounds that are just as harmful as a traditional trauma. This can be especially true for kids.
One of the toughest aspects of healing community trauma is diagnosing it in the first place. You can’t fix what you don’t see. That’s why Cleveland City Council is considering plans to staff recreation centers across the city with counselors trained to recognize health and behavioral issues stemming from unseen trauma. At a recent Cleveland Health and Human Services Committee meeting, a team of our trauma experts helped explain how counselors working with kids at rec centers could help improve life for young people.
Dr. Lisa Ramirez, MetroHealth’s director of community and behavioral health, talked about how trauma and exposure to violence can lead to toxic stress. That stress has lifelong consequences and affects kids’ learning, behavior and even their physical development. As a metaphor, Dr. Ramirez said, "Many of these students essentially are being held underwater from birth, and they have developed a new way of breathing. And if we can help provide a life raft to get them out of that water, their strength is going to be incredible.”
Dr. Ramirez was joined at the committee meeting by:
Sarah Hendrickson, manager, survivor recovery services
Andrea Martemus-Peters, violence injury prevention coordinator
Rev. Dr. Tony Minor, manager of faith-based engagement
Even though they represent different areas of the trauma care spectrum, Lisa, Sarah, Andrea and Tony all know how much damage community trauma can do to Cleveland’s youth.
Healing those wounds – visible or otherwise – will continue to be a priority for us. Based on findings in the MetroHealth Community Health Needs Assessment, community trauma has to be addressed to improve our area’s overall health.