Tackling trauma awareness

The Human Resources Center of Edgar and Clark Counties has started a multi-month series about the impact of trauma on both individuals and communities.

Johanna Westin, clinical director at HRC, led the first session Nov. 29 by providing an overview of trauma, which she described as living more in fear than in hope resulting from a life changing event or series of events. It is most often associated with violence, but it doesn’t have to be and that is where things get tricky.

She gave an example of two people involved in a traffic accident. One person shakes it off with the understanding bad things happen in life and is grateful he or she survived. The other person is overwhelmed by the crash, becomes fearful of traveling and perhaps develops other problems confronting daily life, which in turn causes a downward spiral.

Westin offered a large number of statistics pointing to the damage trauma does to the psyche. She said 10 percent of men and 5 percent of women are diagnosed annually with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); 90 percent of children who are victims of sexual abuse develop PTSD as do 77 percent of children who experienced a school shooting.

Another source of trauma is home violence. It is estimated as many as 10 million children annually see their mothers abused.

“It’s a wonder that any of us are functioning,” said Westin.

She reviewed some of the outward signs of a person experiencing trauma but noted these symptoms are also consistent with other disorders. It is now important consider trauma when making a diagnosis.

“When something traumatic happens to you, you store it the wrong way,” said Westin.

Pleasant memories are stored in the left side of the brain, but traumatic events get put into the right side along with vivid impressions of the associated sights, sounds and smells and victims are subject to flash backs when something triggers the memory.

“When a person has a panic attack, their body is not in the present. They are reliving the event as it happened,” she said.

According to Westin, there are some people who have a resiliency factor as part of their internal personality traits allowing them to keep things in perspective so they survive a traumatic event. An important element is support from others in coping with the situation. Others are not so fortunate and a long-term study shows the earlier a person experiences a trauma the more serious the impact on their overall health.

The numbers suggest a childhood trauma can reduce life expectancy by 20 years.

There is also an economic cost to society. The Center for Disease Control calculates the nation spends $4.6 billion in special education and $3.9 billion in the criminal justice system for children who have experienced a traumatic event.

A 2016 Illinois Youth Survey found 25 percent of 10th grade students and 17 percent of 12th grade students in Edgar County reported suicidal thoughts. In addition, 30 percent of eighth grade students, 34 percent of those in 10th grade and 36 percent in 12th grade claimed feelings of depression.

“That blows my mind,” she said.

Some ways to counter this is by making more services available for home visits with all pregnant women and teens and continued visits after birth with parent training programs. Other options are increased job programs and developing integrated care teams between medical and mental health providers for a holistic approach to health care.

She acknowledged those opposed to such efforts will claim it is too expensive for society or a community to bear, although the money is already being spent in less productive ways.

“We pay for the incarceration. We pay for the emergency rooms,” she said. “What we don’t pay for is the long-term, cost-efficient programs that work. Those children that we worry about grow-up and become adults we worry about.”

Westin proclaimed the HRC trauma series is a community call to action. Future monthly programs are: Wellness, Dec. 12; The Power of Laughter, Jan. 24; Trauma and the Workplace, Feb. 28; Sexual Abuse Awareness, April 18; Trauma Open House, May 16; and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, June 27. All meetings are noon-1:30 p.m. in the Café France.

“This is not a law enforcement problem, or a probation department problem, or mental health services problem or health problem,” said Westin. “This is a community problem.”

The Prairie Press

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