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Our Youth & PTSD: More Common Than You Think

Original article published on Black Femme Epistemology

By the time that I was 7 years old, I had watched my mother get shot, her boyfriend be killed, spent time in a Federal Witness Protection Program and time in a women’s prison for women with children because my mother perjured herself on the witness stand. I don’t remember an adult ever asking me how I was doing or if I was ok.  In my early adulthood, I started to get into physical altercations, ferocious arguments, fits of tears and other unhealthy habits. I would eventually get diagnosed with PTSD and depression. I started recognizing my triggers and learning to navigate through life with the knowledge of my diagnosis. I learned that feelings of anxiety is a prominent symptom of PTSD. When I felt attacks coming on, I developed coping techniques that included removing myself from atmospheres that brought trigger me. It was a process of acknowledging that something was wrong and resolving to not let it control my life. Although that may sound simple, it’s really not. The other young child that was with me when the murder happened, was not as lucky. He has been in prison since 2002.

Domestic violence, gun violence and child abuse are preventable. Kids that experience these things become teenagers and young adults with PTSD symptoms. Only about one-quarter of African Americans seek mental health care, compared to 40% of whites.  Not getting treatment and learning to manage PTSD can turn to depression, bipolar disorder or another personality disorder. Many times, this can lead to some type of conflict with the criminal justice system which then starts a whole new cycle of issues. PTSD is one of the more common psychiatric disorders in youth detention facilities, with the probability of PTSD being at least 1 in 10 detained youth (Abram et al., 2007).

Common symptoms of NON-Combat PTSD:

  • Easily irritable or angry
  • Reckless or self-destructive behavior (e.g. unprotected sex, reckless driving)
  • Easily startled
  • Problems with concentration
  • Difficulties sleeping, including falling asleep and/or staying asleep
  • Persistent negative emotional state and/or the inability to experience positive emotions
  • Loss of interest or participation in significant activities or activities once interested in
  • Feelings of detachment from others
  • Unwanted, distressing memories of the traumatic event(s)
  • Flashbacks – involuntary and vivid re-experiencing of the traumatic experience(s)
  • Intense emotional distress and/or noticeable physiological reactions to trauma reminders

We must take our children’s mental health care as seriously as we take their physical health care. As a community, if we acknowledge our contribution to this preventable condition that affects almost 40% of our youth/young adults and work to reverse it, the results will be positive and dynamic for our communities as a whole for generations to come.

Tonya McKenzie
Founder of Sand & Shores
Communications & Leadership Consultant
Author of A Child’s Memories of Cartoons & Murder
Twitter & Instagram: @TonyaMcKenziePR

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