Reducing Community Trauma, Repairing Communities

July 21, 2021
Reducing Community Trauma, Repairing Communities
Each of us can look in our own communities to see that racism, the COVID-19 pandemic, poverty, natural disasters, violence and many other individual and community-based traumas have an effect on the overall health of a community and their readiness to address prevention issues.
We want to know what more can be done. What is that "thing" that will move the needle in my own community? What can I do to help individuals and my community be safer and healthier? To address widespread trauma at a large scale means not only providing trauma-informed care for affected individuals, but also addressing trauma at the population level, as with any epidemic. As mental health expert Dr. George Albee stated, “No epidemic has ever been resolved by paying attention to the treatment of the affected individual.” A focus solely on the treatment of individuals can only be part of a comprehensive solution.
Like Adverse Childhood Experiences, Adverse Community Experiences require attention at a population level and consideration of what can be done to prevent trauma in the first place. There are identifiable elements or symptoms of community trauma. Traumatized communities typically have deteriorated environments and unhealthy, often dangerous public spaces with crumbling built environments; damaged, fragmented or disrupted social relations, particularly intergenerational relations; damaged or broken social networks and infrastructure for social support; the elevation of destructive, dislocated social norms that promote or encourage violence and unhealthy behaviors rather than community-oriented positive social norms; and a low sense of collective political and social efficacy. While many of those living and working in impacted areas share the sense that whole communities can be traumatized, until now there has been no conceptual framework for understanding the systemic effects of trauma at a community level—and how community trauma undermines both individual and collective resiliency in the face of violence.1
The adoption of a framework for community trauma could be instrumental in the development and adoption of strategies to reduce community trauma, heal communities and promote healthy, thriving communities. A framework that holds great promise includes the areas where trauma are manifested and includes a set of emerging strategies for promoting community healing in the social-cultural environment, the physical/built environment, and the economic environment. Below are a few strategies to consider in each of these areas:
Community healing strategies include:
  • Trauma-informed community building strategies;
  • Restorative justice programs that shift the norms around conflict resolution;
  • Healing circles that both promote healing from individual trauma and strengthen intergenerational relationships;
  • Economic and workforce development strategies that improve the employment skills, capacity and readiness of community members and link them to job opportunities with a living wage;
  • Improvements in the built environment (parks, housing and transportation) that create safer public spaces;
  • Collaborations that promote these community-level strategies while rebuilding community social networks; and
  • Efforts to change the narrative about a community.
While treatment is important to addressing trauma, it is also critical to focus on reducing the need for treatment through prevention. As more and more models are developed for treatment and addressing trauma after its onset, there is a need for prioritizing how to treat it as a public health epidemic, exploring population-level strategies and prevention.
Please attend our final session in the Preventing Trauma and Its Consequences series, Community Trauma and Systemic Intervention Strategies Thursday, July 22 at 1:30. Register here
Based on the Prevention Institute's (2016) Adverse Community Experiences and Resilience A Framework for Addressing and Preventing Community Trauma, funded by Kaiser Permanente.
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