Intergenerational Trauma in the African American Community
Updated: Feb 27
Knowledge concerning trauma-informed care has increased substantially over the past decade or so. While this increased awareness has helped us understand the importance of trauma treatment, certain demographics and populations still go untreated for PTSD and other trauma-related disorders. People of color are less likely to be treated and have arguably been impacted by trauma more than any other race; from the Atlantic slave trade to public lynchings, to racial tensions that sparked the "black lives matter" movement, and beyond. Trauma in the African American community has been prevalent for generations. "Intergenerational trauma" is a term used to describe how events that target a group of people affect family members who have not directly experienced trauma. In addition, the stigma of mental illness has kept African Americans at a disadvantage when it comes to identifying mental illness and seeking treatment.
Intergenerational trauma and its impact on the African American community has helped shape stereotypes and commonly held beliefs African Americans have about themselves. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, African Americans are 13% less likely to seek mental health treatment compared to the national average, one reason is that seeking help is considered a "weakness"; the trauma that has been the experience of African Americans through generations of broken families, abuse, and disregard for human rights has been dealt with in silence and ultimately has become a norm. Trauma caused by centuries of oppression and discrimination has robbed people of color of their right to live successful lives for generations, and it has been a struggle for many to break the cycle.
How can we change this?
Treating people of color requires a culturally sensitive and socially aware therapist. Mental health professionals interested in treating trauma should be aware of the barriers to bringing mental health awareness to people of color such as mistaken beliefs about treatment, the stigma of having a mental illness, and distrust. Mental health treatment should be made more accessible in African American communities, and it should be normalized and discussed more frequently. Finally, Intergenerational trauma should be included when teaching black history in order to increase understanding and awareness of how and why the African American community has been impacted.
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