By Laura Braden Quigley, CTIPP's Director of Communications and Outreach
It's a tragic reality that communities around the United States continue to be rocked by violent events. These traumatizing incidents reflect a complex issue within our collective consciousness influenced by various factors such as mental health, outdated approaches to public safety, access to firearms, societal issues, and a lack of effective prevention measures.
Trauma and stress can have a profound and far-reaching impact on a community. The immediate aftermath of a tragic event can be chaotic and devastating for those directly affected, including survivors, families of victims, and first responders.
And when the media pack up their equipment and head to the next breaking news event, the trauma does not end for the community (see also: Toolkit on Trauma-Informed Journalism).
The ripple effect can be felt everywhere, as residents may struggle with waves of fear, anxiety, and grief. They may also battle with changes in their sense of safety and trust in their community. Trauma can lead to long-term mental health issues such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and anxiety, impacting individuals, families, and the community differently at different times.
Collective stress can also exacerbate existing issues within a community, such as poverty, inequality, and marginalization, making it harder to come together to heal and recover. It can also manifest in the nation’s resilience and how we support one another in the aftermath.
The good news is there are solutions.
We need a transformational change in approach and legislation centered on healing, led by the community, with an understanding of the negative impacts of trauma. This trauma-informed approach prioritizes the well-being and healing of affected communities and gives them a leading role in creating solutions. It also considers the impact of historical trauma and systemic oppression on communities and works to address these issues comprehensively and fairly.
A complete paradigm shift is needed because we cannot solve our society's problems with the same thinking that created them. If we continue to spend more time, energy, and money on solving the symptoms of our nation’s most challenging crises – like substance misuse, childhood abuse, homelessness, and overdoses – rather than the primary root cause of trauma, the cycle will continue.
The current dominant paradigm is based on individualism, competition, and a focus on punishment and control, which has created systems that perpetuate inequality, oppression, and violence.
We must shift away from this narrow and limited perspective to one that recognizes the interconnectedness of individuals and communities, the importance of healing and community-building, and the need to address the root causes of trauma. This shift in thinking is essential for creating authentic and lasting transformation.
Healing-centered legislation addresses the emotional and psychological needs of individuals and communities impacted by trauma. This includes providing access to mental health services and community-based healing programs.
Community-led legislation places the voices and experiences of those impacted at the center of decision-making processes. This means involving community members in designing, implementing, and evaluating policies and programs that affect them. It also means ensuring that policies and programs are culturally appropriate and responsive.
Trauma-informed legislation considers how trauma and prolonged stress affect individuals, families, communities, and systems – and incorporates this understanding into policy and practice. This includes recognizing the impact of historical trauma on marginalized communities and addressing the ongoing trauma caused by systemic oppression. It also includes creating policies and programs that do not re-traumatize individuals and communities.
These three elements are interconnected and necessary for creating lasting, meaningful change.
Healing-centered and trauma-informed approaches are essential for addressing the immediate needs of individuals and communities impacted by trauma. And community-led approaches are necessary for preventing, mitigating, and addressing the root causes of trauma and creating sustainable, equitable solutions.
We must collectively consider how our society’s systems and institutions perpetuate violence, trauma, and stress. To build safe, healthy, and thriving communities for all, we need trauma-informed policies and practices that address the immediate needs while also working to prevent, address, and mitigate future traumatic events.
Together, we can help co-create supportive conditions to help people, families, and communities succeed.
ReCAST: Resiliency in Communities After Stress and Trauma. A federal program that assists high-risk youth and families and promotes resilience and equity in communities that have recently faced civil unrest through the implementation of evidence-based violence prevention and community youth engagement programs, as well as linkages to trauma-informed behavioral health services. (SAMHSA)
The federal Disaster Technical Assistance Center helps states, U.S. territories, tribes, and local providers plan for and respond to mental health and substance use–related needs after a disaster. (SAMHSA)
Building Community Resilience: Policy & Advocacy Guide (CTIPP)
Building the Movement: Activating & Equipping Local Coalitions (CTIPP)
What are Cross-Sector Community Coalitions & How Can Congress Support? (CTIPP)
Helping Youth after Community Trauma: Tips for Educators (NCTSN)
After the Disaster: Rebuilding Communities (Fetzer Institute)