Experiencing racial discrimination. Struggling with a lack of food or insecure housing. Witnessing or being a victim of violence. Losing a loved one to homicide.
This constellation of experiences make up what New Haven psychologist Dr. Maysa Akbar has termed “urban trauma.” This condition, which Dr. Akbar has trademarked, disproportionately affects Black people, especially those who live in poverty. “We’ve struggled around the issues of oppression, discrimination and colorism which have existed in our communities and that we continue to struggle with,” Dr. Akbar told the New Haven Register in 2017.
Dr. Akbar’s book, Urban Trauma: A Legacy of Racism, examines the ways in which systemic racism, overcrowded housing, failing schools, drug abuse and health problems associated with poverty lead to repeated traumas and often post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.
Dr. Akbar told the New Haven Register that urban trauma can manifest as strong emotions, irritability or flashbacks. “There are moments of depression and lack of motivation, giving up, due to hopelessness,” she said.
However, urban trauma is treatable. Clinicians may use several modalities to help those experiencing the effects of repeated trauma, including Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART). This therapy can help free people from the mental and physical symptoms of trauma.
Dr. Akbar urges mental health providers to become versed in the psychological effects of systemic racism and poverty. “I’m going to make sure that people start incorporating [urban trauma] in their way of treating Black communities in particular,” Akbar told the New Haven Register. “If folks are going to consider themselves culturally competent in this work, we can’t isolate the historical component, the race, the oppression, and the racial disparities; we have to understand both in the context of what we’re doing.”
What Is Trauma
Trauma is defined as an emotional and psychological response to an event or experience that is deeply disturbing or distressing, such as urban trauma. According to the American Psychological Association, the most common symptoms of trauma include:
- Feelings become intense and sometimes are unpredictable. Irritability, mood swings, anxiety and depression are common manifestations of this.
- Flashbacks: repeated and vivid memories of the event that lead to physical reactions such as rapid heartbeat or sweating
- Confusion or difficulty making decisions
- Sleeping or eating issues
- Fear that the emotional event will be repeated
- A change in interpersonal relationships skills, such as an increase in conflict or a more withdrawn and avoidant personality
- Physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea and chest pain
Post-Traumatic Stress (PTSD)
PTSD can develop after a very stressful, frightening or distressing event or after a prolonged traumatic experience. While not everyone who experiences neglect suffers from PTSD, those who do are by no means weak; PTSD is not a sign of weakness.
There are three different categories of symptoms associated with PTSD which include:
- Avoiding reminders of the trauma including places, people, thoughts or other activities that can be associated with the event.
- Reliving the event through recurring nightmares or other intrusive images that occur at randomly any time. Typically reliving the event will result in extreme emotional or physical reactions such as chills, heart palpitation, or panic when faced with reminders of the event.
- Being on guard or hyper-aroused at times, including feeling sudden anger or irritable, having difficulty sleeping or a lack of concentration and being overly alert and easily startled.
PTSD if left untreated can lead to a variety of serious symptoms, including:
- Anger management issues: For some people, the moments of recurring stress and anxiety lead to outbursts of anger or rage. This can result in child or spousal abuse or even public violence.
- Loneliness: Because PTSD can potentially make a person very difficult to be around and is often undiagnosed, individuals who are suffering from its symptoms may end up isolated and alone.
- Severe depression: Serious depression is always a risk with PTSD. Many sufferers may demonstrate suicidal thoughts or actions while in the midst of a PTSD episode.
Generally, survivors of urban trauma are recommended to seek professional guidance if they find themselves unable to gain control of their lives or if they continue to suffer from PTSD symptoms for more than a month.
Early Intervention and Treatment is Important
Intervene as soon as possible on behalf of someone suffering from urban trauma. Uncharacteristic behavior becomes increasingly destructive. Over time, buried and suppressed memories become more and more powerful.
Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART) is an innovative, evidence-based therapy for PTSD, anxiety, depression, stress and similar mental health issues. Initially, the therapy was primarily used to help veterans suffering from PTSD. One of the major advantages is the speed at which ART is able to bring relief. Generally, an average of four sessions are needed, not months or years of expensive psychiatric treatment.
Accelerated Resolution Therapy works by reprogramming the traumatic memories that are preventing a person from enjoying the full life they deserve. The techniques work equally well on anyone suffering from trauma, regardless of the type of trauma experienced. Trauma, at the end of the day, is still trauma.
Regardless of how bad things may be, there is always hope and always someone available to help you through difficult times. Contact ART International to learn more about urban trauma or find a therapist near you.