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Editor’s Note: July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. Mental health experts Venice and Vernon Moore, who live in East Haven and run their company in North Haven, will be writing a series of columns on mental health this month.
A lot of us have been brought up in this world to be strong, tough, and not talk about the things that really get to us, including our feelings, and how things really affect us.
When life throws curveballs, we often don’t acknowledge the effect of the curveball, or even that the curveball exists; we deal with it and try to move forward, especially in this fast-paced world.
Life can be a roller-coaster that has fun and easy-going times, but it can also dip out of control and approach speeds for which we may not be prepared.
Whether as child, teenager, or adult, there may be things that have happened to us or family members and because they have been sort of brushed past, we don’t realize they could have been a traumatic experience.
Take a car crash, for instance.
Maybe it seemed like nothing serious—it was just a fender bender. Now the driver in one car could be focused on the damage and the increase in the insurance, and that’s all that concerns that person.
The passenger in the same car may have had a very different experience.
The driver may be able to get behind the wheel the next day with no effects from the accident the previous day. The passenger, on the other hand, may have an issue riding with someone for months to come. That passenger has experienced a traumatic experience that had a very different effect than on the driver.
Same accident, very different effects.
We sometime fail to realize that different situations have a different effect on each of us, therefore making it easy to either ignore or not even consider that another person may have experienced trauma.
Trauma is identified as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. It is an emotional shock and sometimes leads to long-term neurosis or can lead to more serious health conditions, if not treated.
According to the Department of Mental Health, there are three types of traumas: acute, chronic, or complex. Acute trauma results from a single incident such as a fire or losing a loved one tragically. Chronic trauma is repeated and prolonged such as domestic violence or abuse. Complex trauma is exposure to varied and multiple traumatic events, and often invasive and interpersonal.
When a traumatic or terrifying event takes place in one’s own life that negatively affects that person’s daily functions and goes untreated, it can later be diagnosed as post-traumatic stress syndrome, better known as PTSD.
Symptoms may include nightmares or unwanted memories of the trauma, avoidance of situations that bring back memories of the trauma, heightened reactions, anxiety, or depressed mood.
Some people may exhibit behaviors including being highly irritated, self-destructive behavior, and avoidance of people or places, and they even may become depressed over time. Some may even be unaware or become withdrawn. Either way, trauma is something serious and should not be taken lightly.
In our article last week we spoke about breaking patterns. Sometimes entire families might have a pattern of unaddressed trauma. A family that has experienced sexual abuse, poverty, domestic violence, substance abuse, or a number of other traumatic experiences could see these patterns repeated or new negative patterns created in generations to come if those involved are not able to address the trauma in a proper way and get the help they need to cope with that experience.
Here are a list of examples and experiences that could be considered traumatic:
• Natural disasters (tornado, hurricane, fire, or flood)
• Sexual assault or abuse (once or ongoing)
• Physical assault or abuse (once or ongoing)
• Being a victim of domestic violence
• Witnessing a shooting, stabbing, or physical or sexual assault
• A car accident
• Sudden death of a parent or trusted caregiver
• Hospitalization or several hospitalizations (self or loved ones)
• Constant moving or evictions
• Seeing a parent or caregiver in a toxic or abusive relationship
• Inherited family patterns
• Negative experience or abuse from authority
• Being in a war or seeing a parent or caregiver return from war
We have all experienced trauma in some way, shape or form in our lives, and for some, there has been a way that we have been able to process it, make sense of it, and move on from it.
But for others, the effects are lasting, life changing, and sometimes debilitating.
Unfortunately, in many cultures, especially in the African-American and Hispanic communities, people and family members have become desensitized to trauma. America has become used to trauma. It’s on television screens, it’s in newspapers, and it’s on social media sights, but we have to be OK with calling it what it is and addressing it in the moment.
For many of us, it is all we know, until we are exposed to more, and are able to communicate with others about how we feel about things and how they affect us, become open to help, and then are able to see things with greater vision.
Although we are brought up to be strong and become resilient due to all of the challenges of daily living, everyone should take some time to process and determine whether an experience or memory is affecting your or has affected you in a traumatic way. Then, it’s time to go about finding the support to begin to heal. We can’t be afraid to address our trauma because that’s the only true way to move forward and heal!
Venice and Vernon Moore are the Owners of Embracing Your Difference, a mental health private practice and leadership firm in North Haven. To learn more about the Embracing Your Difference Movement or to find out more about their latest work, The Self Love and Self-Healing Workbook, visit www.embraceyourdifference.com.