Urban residents living in big cities that are riddled with crime are not only living in fear but studies now show these residents are also suffering from PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
PTSD is typically a diagnosis reserved for war veterans, however researchers believe the war going on in some neighborhoods has the same effect on the psyche as the war on foreign soil. PTSD affects the amygdala a part of the brain that releases a chemical that helps trigger your response in a fight or flight situation. PTSD diagnosis is associated with a person that is exposed to extreme trauma for long periods of time, damaging the part of the brain that triggers your fight response. The amygdala stays in fight mode and the neurons connecting it never recover, thereby the individual is always in a hyper sensitive mode. A few symptoms of PTSD are nightmares, flashbacks, triggers, negative feelings and emotions.
Urban residents that are exposed to crimes such as; shootings, robberies, fights and constant violence are suffering from PTSD. The constant exposure can be traumatic and the rationality of whether to leave or stay is affected. The trauma to the brain tarnishes the memories not allowing the person the ability to determine what is good or bad. The longer someone is exposed to trauma the greater the damage, which can ultimately lead to dissociative identity disorder, a mental disorder where two or more personalities are present in an individual. The American Journal of Orthopsychiatry further reports a person does not have to be directly exposed to violence just the mere perception that violence is happening around them can also have a negative impact on urban residents.
Sociologist have reported that crime overall in the United States is on the decline; however there are several cities that are greatly impacted by crime on a consistent basis warranting the diagnosis of PTSD for its urban residents. Professor of Psychiatry at Emory University, Dr. Kerry Ressler believes the issue of PTSD is a pandemic affecting more residents than war veterans in cities such as; Atlanta, D.C., Chicago and L.A. Dr. Kessler also points out war in urban areas affects whole families and in some instances not just one family member is lost to violence but whole generations.
Mental health is a topic often overlooked when theories of causes of crime in local communities are discussed. However Dr. Ressler suggests addressing the effects of violence on an individual’s brain and offering a solution is the only way to deal with it. The facts are, men who are exposed to trauma are more likely to go to prison. Another study out of Chicago found children within a week of witnessing a homicide, had lower verbal and impulse controls. The effects of trauma are evident in urban cities and all members of the family are affected psychologically.
Ressler believes residents in urban neighborhoods are at a continued high risk of losing generations to violence. There seems to be a vicious cycle in some communities, crime, PTSD, more crime and the cycle repeats. Although PTSD is typically reserved for war veterans returning home from fighting a war in foreign countries, there are local communities experiencing wars of their own and residents are exposed to it right in their backyards. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a pandemic and whole families are at risk.
By Debra Pittman
U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs
National Center Biotechnology Information