Culture and Ethnicity plays a key role in not only how individuals access mental health resources, but also how individuals perceive and experience mental illness, including whether they choose to seek help and how they turn to that for support. First and foremost, we recognize that there is a lack of culturally and linguistically appropriate services for diverse communities on a national level. Discrimination and microaggressions further impact these individuals’ ability to seek help. This is an alarming issue that needs to be addressed on a national level.
For those who do access mental health resources, the mental health community can often discredit (and miss all together) the impact that historical trauma has on family systems and communities as a whole.
What is historical trauma?
Historical trauma refers to experiences, shared by communities and families that can result in cumulative emotional and psychological wounds that are carried across generations. Some examples of Historical trauma include: Genocide, slavery, forced relocation, and destruction of cultural practices.
The effects of traumas imposed on communities because of their race, creed and ethnicity has a lasting impact on generations long after the traumas were originally inflicted. Historical trauma is held personally, and those who have not had the experience themselves feel the effect.
The result? Communities who experience higher rates of mental and physical illness, and develop maladaptive coping mechanisms like substance abuse. The chronic cycle of trauma erodes families, impacts quality of life, and threatens the vitality of entire cultures. This phenomenon is widespread, affects multiple cultures, globally.
Symptoms of historical trauma
- Obsession rumination about the deceased
- Obtrusive thoughts or nightmares
- Survivor’s guilt
What happens today further affects Historical Trauma.
Micro-aggressions, are contemporary verbal and nonverbal messages and events involving discrimination, racism and daily hassles that compound Historical Trauma. We can see Micro-agression in the images [or lack of] images in the environment: such as the cartoon-ization of American Indians, and language surrounding everyday items (Devil’s Food Cake being chocolate, while Angel’s Food Cake is white, a ‘harmless’ lie being referred to as a ‘white’ lie).
“The residue of unresolved, historic, traumatic experiences and generational or unresolved grief is not only being passed from generation to generation it is continuously acted and reenacted – Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux & Magdalena Smolewski (2004).
How We Heal Historical Trauma?
The answer to healing Historical Trauma is Cultural Healing. When working with a client and/or family we need to examine the effects of the historical trauma and the survival strategies learned not only on a personal/family level but across communities. But before we can examine this, we need education. Education on values and ways of life. We need to assess our awareness of micro-aggressions and privilege. When we do this, we can invite conversation. We can invite connection. More than anything, we can listen with a caring and giving voice to what is carried forth in generations.