The Devastating Societal Effects of Structural Trauma

The concept of God's salvation:silhouette of helping hand concept and international day of peace

With our highly anticipated Faith, Addiction & Trauma Summit only a few weeks away, the timing couldn’t be better to take an in-depth look into the topic of trauma and the impact it has on all areas of an individual’s health.

One of the main reasons that trauma and related issues are so far-reaching in society is that they impact all Americans regardless of race, income, or region of the country. Traditional social determinants such as housing, employment, education, and poverty, as well as interpersonal experiences and social support systems, both perceived and actual, significantly impact an individual’s recovery from trauma. Moreover, trauma has been linked to adverse behavioral and primary healthcare outcomes.

As with many health concerns, trauma is a complex issue that can affect an individual on many different levels, each of which leading to varying degrees of impact on the individual’s overall health and well-being. Toxic trauma, for example, is associated with higher levels of neurochemicals, such as cortisol, among others. When an individual is under chronic stress, his or her body releases cortisol into the bloodstream. Prolonged exposure to elevated levels of cortisol and related neurochemicals has been shown to negatively correlate with both behavioral and primary healthcare issues.

Specifically, high levels of cortisol are associated with illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, and several inflammatory disorders. An individual suffering from these ailments may also experience changes in the brain that directly affect mood or even personality. These same primary healthcare issues correlate with individuals diagnosed with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression, bipolar disorder, or anxiety disorder. Such illnesses are interactive and can result in adverse physiological and psychological healthcare outcomes.

Continuous trauma keeps the human body in a constant state of fight, flight, and freeze, a process primarily influenced by the amygdala. This constant state of tension often causes an individual’s immune system to become further weakened and more susceptible to the development of new physiological and behavioral health challenges. For a person struggling with hypertension, this continuous state of trauma can compound the issue and possibly increase his or her blood pressure to even higher levels. In addition to the increased concern of hypertension, new health concerns can be triggered by this state.

This correlation between behavioral and primary healthcare concerns is the foundation for Northeast Delta’s integrated care and social determinants of health model. Our many programs are pieces of a larger puzzle that enable our agency to address the issues facing one of the most devastated areas of the country, Louisiana’s Delta. Our work allows us to ensure that those populations who are often underserved and overlooked can have access to the resources and services they need.

Research shows that individuals who do not have proper access to services, have limited social supports, and live in high poverty and crime-related communities will typically yield higher prevalence rates of trauma, mental illness, and addiction. Structural inequalities also have a substantial impact on individuals, families, and communities, specifically those living in areas with uncoordinated educational and health and human services programs. For example, a poorly run educational system will result in students receiving a poor education, which significantly increases the likelihood that those students will find themselves expelled from school, court-involved, incarcerated, and/or harboring substance abuse and related addiction issues.

Poor education also has a direct correlation with a lack of employment. Given that employment is also a social determinant of both behavioral and primary healthcare issues, it becomes apparent that an individual’s employment status can be both a feeder and a cause of the aforementioned negative healthcare outcomes. Thus, an individual’s ability, or lack thereof, to navigate the necessary social supports for their unique situation relies on their understanding of how to engage with structural systems. Correspondingly, we are likely to see higher rates of primary healthcare challenges like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, STDs, and related adverse health outcomes in these individuals.

Traumatized individuals, traumatized communities, and traumatized social systems are symbiotic and will reinforce adverse health outcomes without proper intervention at all levels. It is no longer sufficient for communities to only look to government agencies as the ultimate solution. The reality of this situation is that the reach of government is limited. Moreover, despite their best intentions, uncoordinated and inefficient government systems can do more to contribute to these issues than to negate them. This reality is precisely why faith communities need to position themselves as part of the solution.

When people find themselves in the midst of trauma, they do not always turn to the government for support. Instead, some turn to their social support groups – family members, friends, co-workers, and faith communities – many of whom are entirely unprepared to provide the assistance and resources that these individuals need. To adequately address trauma and related issues, there must be an intervention at all levels, undergirded by the appropriate capacity, policies, and resources.

Northeast Delta’s Faith Partnership Initiative was established as a way to bridge this gap in both the treatment and prevention of trauma and all its related afflictions. The concept of trauma is a central focus of our upcoming summit, entitled Faith, Addiction & Trauma: Healing our Communities. This event will be an opportunity for faith leaders, laity, and community members to learn more about the issues facing our communities and discover strategies and resources to assist those in need.

Throughout this summit, you will hear from several well-known regional and national speakers, including myself. The issues I’ve shared in this blog are only the tip of the iceberg where trauma is concerned. I will be taking a more in-depth look at this subject during my mid-day keynote, as well as addressing how trauma and related issues are impacting our region, state, and nation. Bishop Joseph W. Walker, III of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, will speak about the collaboration between clinical and faith communities. Dr. Matthew S. Stanford of the Hope and Healing Center & Institute in Houston, Texas, will discuss the clinical aspects of trauma.

This event will serve two purposes for those who attend. In addition to the prominent educational component, our summit will also have a catalytic element intended to show attendees how to manage their trauma and inspire them to carry that knowledge with them long after the event has ended. Specifically, there will be inspirational musical numbers, eye-catching visual displays, healing massages, subject matter experts, helpful resources, and heart-healthy wellness activities. This day has been carefully designed to focus on the mind, body, and spirit of each person in attendance, and you won’t want to miss a moment of it.

Seats are filling quickly! Register today at https://nedeltahsa.org/faith-summit-2020

Sizer Round

Dr. Monteic A. Sizer
Northeast Delta Human Services Authority

Dr. Monteic A. Sizer serves as executive director of Northeast Delta Human Services Authority (Northeast Delta HSA). He joined the organization in May 2013 as its first executive director. He is uniquely qualified to advocate on behalf of citizens located in the 12 Northeast Delta HSA parishes he represents because he exemplifies how people can meet their greatest human potential based on accountability, integrity and a willingness to engage in their own lives.

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