Departmental Talk

Dr. Jennifer Coleman’s research was geared towards stress and how it affects non-white population, specifically black populations. As her main focus was on veterans, she encountered PTSD a lot, and sought to find the racial divide between symptomatology, expression, and cause. It has been established, that due to the continuous struggles against discrimination and segregation, the non-white populations are often victims of various health issues and mental illnesses, so PTSD was expected to be upregulated, or diagnosed more in black veterans than not. Previous research had indicated mixed results, while some analysis showed that black veterans on average expressed more PTSD, some showed that there was no significant increase in their expression as compared to non-black veterans. Dr. Coleman’s own research indicated the latter, although it did show that black veterans were more likely to be suffering from some of the more debilitating effects.

I think this talk left more questions than answers. Focusing on the interesting parts first, I was surprised to know about transgenerational effects of mental illness, here, PTSD. While it makes sense to embody and empathise with a group you identified with, I had not put together that being sick could be one of those factors too. I wish she had gone into more details: Is this isolated to black populations? Can this be seen in white populations at lower income/ middle income white families which might be more close knit? Can the effect it has on veterans be mitigated if the veteran is placed in a different environment, i.e, put in a community with other veterans?

My last point has to do with an experiment run by a NY conservatory, that treats veterans with PTSD by putting them in contact with parrots, who also have been diagnosed to have PTSD, or some sort of traumatic past. Can this sense of belonging irrespective of race, ethnicity, or color actually keep PTSD at bay?

I felt that Dr. Coleman’s talk spent more effort in justifying the use of race in her studies, when it was easily justified. Perhaps that is because I have taken this class, but I would have liked more information about “so what?”. What will be the impact of actually showing that it does have an effect? Is it intended to change policy makers, so that there is not a repeat of veterans from the Vietnam war? Is it to make the veterans aware, so that they can understand their own feelings better?

As stated before, I was left with more questions than answers, but I thought her insight about experimental design at the end was important.

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