From Neighborhood to Classroom: Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD)
For many years, conversations around posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have primarily focused on military veteran populations returning from war. Keeping in mind that exposure to life-threatening, traumatic experiences are not just limited to military veterans, efforts are being made to shed light on other groups that are also impacted by PTSD. One of those groups includes students of color in historically marginalized communities.
1 in 3 students of color living in historically marginalized communities display symptoms of mild to severe PTSD.
In other words, youth of color are twice as likely to experience mild to severe symptoms of PTSD compared to soldiers returning from live combat.
Poverty, institutional racism, homicide, and neighborhood disinvestment represent some of many exposures linked to PTSD among students of color. However, the conversation doesn’t end there.
PTSD assumes a person will experience physical, mental, and emotional distress after being exposed to a traumatic life experience. For students of color, that exposure is continuous. Living in a historically marginalized community means that students will return to and experience traumatic events/conditions such as poverty, institutional racism, homicide, and neighborhood disinvestment, on a daily basis. PTSD on its own does not capture the complexity of those experiences. Thus, students of color living in communities with high exposures to such conditions may actually be experiencing Complex Posttraumatic Disorder, or CPTSD.
Even for individuals who have all the resources and knowledge needed to cope with diagnosed trauma, navigating such symptoms can be a serious challenge. There is a need to address such issues among students of color with CPTSD as unidentified and untreated symptoms of CPTSD can significantly affect their ability to fully engage, focus, and participate in school. In order to address this issue, it is important to consider comprehensive community partnerships. Such partnerships can provide the capacity needed to resource schools in ways that will fully support the wellness of their students through the creation of trauma-sensitive school environments.
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Written by Angelica Delgado (she/her/hers), The Office of Diversity and Equity