This morning I read on the NPR website Laura Staracheski’s reporting on Dr. Vincent Felitti’s research into childhood trauma and its’ effects on us in adult life. Dr. Felitti developed an ACE test to attempt to measure the amount of trauma experienced by adults as children. It’s fascinating stuff. I hope you read it, and not just to see what your score is.
Trauma- the emotional response to a terrible event– can manifest itself in many ways. Dr.Felitti’s research found the higher the ACE score, the more likely you are to suffer from such things as alcohol or drug abuse, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and severe obesity. Sadly, we “upstanding members of society” often ridicule people for suffering from many of these conditions, which further traumatizes them.
I see a great deal of trauma in our society, much of which is trauma heaped on top of trauma. We berate people for not measuring up to the standards of the lucky few who got to grow up without trauma, or who did well in spite of it. Personally, I think that sucks. I don’t think some are any better than others because they went to an Ivy League college or were blessed with good looks. And I sure as hell don’t see why the rest of us look up to those folks, especially when they’re poking fun at others to make themselves look good.
I have suffered a great deal of what is called secondary trauma in doing what I do. I have listened to children tell me about physical and sexual abuse. They tell me of how fearful they are when their father starts beating up their mother. Once a kid under the age of ten gave me a primer on how to make methamphetamine. I have listened to adults tell me of the abuse they suffered as children, and how the system further abused them by removing them from their parents and placing them with abusive foster parents, or by moving them from home to home to home.
So you’d think that agencies charged with investigating and dealing with child abuse would take steps to be supportive of their staff. That’s not what I’ve experienced. The general consensus in my agency is “put on your big girl panties and deal with it.” And we do, by walking out the door in droves. I’d be gone too if I had somewhere to go.
Trauma is eating away at our society. Over a billion dollars in stolen property was reported to law enforcement in Florida in 2013. The Florida Dept of Law Enforcement has an annual budget of $3oo million. The state also spends that much each year to investigate child abuse and neglect. In fiscal year 2011, Florida spent almost $700 million on mental health care, and it was far from what was needed. Want to know the largest psychiatric facility in Florida? The Miami-Dade County Jail.
Those are just SOME of the costs for ONE state in the US that are incurred because of trauma.
So you think we oughtta do something about it?
OK! I’m listening! What can I, Joe or Jane citizen, do to change the tide?
It’s easy: Stop being a jerk to others.
The Dalai Lama said it in a nicer way, “If you can, help others; if you cannot do that, at least do not harm them.” You may not like homeless people or drug addicts or fat women, folks on welfare and food stamps, or those at the food pantry, and that’s your right. Just keep that bit of information to yourself. No, don’t even share it with your friends. That needs to be your little secret. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
Quit making everything a war! The War on Hunger may catch your attention, but it’s just not the same as the war on ISIS. With ISIS, somebody needs killing. With hunger? Not so much.
And when you see people who are suffering the effects of trauma, encourage them to get treatment. Treatments DO work, but many people don’t seek treatment due to either a lack of funds or because of the stigma associated with treatment.
So how about today we each make a point of being kind to one another? It may not make things better, but at least it will prevent them from getting worse.