Departmental Talk

On Friday, October 26th, Dr. Jennifer Coleman from Rush University gave a talk about Racial Differences in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder between military personnel. She began the talk by explaining the organization she works for called the Road Home Program; this program offers free mental health services to service members and their families. They have a three-week outpatient therapy program for PTSD to combat and military sexual trauma. This program makes an impact due to its holistic treatment, which involves cognitive processing therapy, acupuncture, yoga and mindfulness training.

After discussing the program, Dr. Coleman started discussing the impact health disparities can have on people. She highlighted the disparities affect on mental and physical health by explaining how actual and perceived racial discrimination has been found to negatively impact mental and physical health. There are various consequences associated with discrimination and racism that reaches beyond the micro-level. These negative beliefs can spread to different institutions within our society, like education. Inequalities of resources can affect health both directly and indirectly. Dr. Coleman claimed that there is a positive association between racism and mental distress for African-Americans, however numerous studies show whites have worse or similar mental health compared to African-Americans. This finding was not surprising to me, but what was interesting is that research investigating mental health differences across races was never clear cut. There was always some findings that were unexpected. But what was striking is the fact that African-Americans have higher rates for PTSD.

Dr. Coleman gave two theoretic explanations for the significant stress represented in racial minority groups. First, was the Minority stress model, which states that there can be cumulative wear and tear on the restorative and regulatory systems in the body due to stressors. Discrimination and stigma are two negative beliefs that can activate stress responses. Additionally, African-Americans have been found to have significantly higher allostatic loads compared to Caucasians which can affect health overtime. The second theory explored was the Intergenerational Trauma theory, that claims a traumatic event can also happen to a family, a community, or another group of individuals with a shared identity. Examples given were: African-Americans and slavery and the Jews and the Holocaust. These life-changing traumas can have negative affects on generation after generation. Even more, trauma can be transmitted in a number of ways: behavior, biology, beliefs, racial socialization etc. It takes a lot of effort to heal those traumatic wounds and it can be hard when a belief is so deeply ingrained in a society. 

During the last few moments of her lecture, Dr. Coleman explained to us that the association between race and PTSD is widely understudied. The studies she explores at the end of the talk provide evidence to how African-Americans are more likely to develop PTSD than their white counterparts. Yet, even with this information more well constructed research must be done on this topic area.

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