Trauma spanning generations of a family or across a community creates adverse effects for children that can cause problems well into adulthood, according to a counselor scheduled to speak on the issue in Duluth this week.
Sam Simmons has worked as an alcohol and drug counselor for the past two decades and has spent the last several years using historical and generational trauma as a framework for the experiences of black Americans.
"Trauma, especially toxic trauma, has an effect on the actual physical development of a child's brain and can affect their ability to be able to manage their emotions," Simmons said.
The Duluth school district is bringing in Simmons to discuss historical and generational trauma with the community and school district staff. Simmons works at The Family Partnership in the Twin Cities, where he manages the federally funded Be More campaign to end violence against women. He also organizes the annual Community Empowerment Through Black Men Healing Conference.
Simmons is scheduled to present "Historical and Generational Trauma and its Relationship to Adverse Childhood Experiences" at 6 p.m. Thursday, in the auditorium of Lincoln Park Middle School. The session is free and open to the public.
Generational trauma, also known as intergenerational trauma, is a trauma experienced by a previous generation which affects the next generation, depending on how the previous generation handled the trauma, Simmons explained. It was first recognized in 1966 after large numbers of children of Holocaust survivors were seeking treatment.
Historical trauma is a collective trauma experienced among generations of people in a community. Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart, a psychiatry professor at the University of New Mexico, developed the theory of historical trauma to explain the disparities experienced by Native Americans.
Simmons said during his visit to Duluth, he'll be helping people "connect the dots" of the behaviors they're seeing and why those behaviors are occurring. He'll provide better ways to address the issues "because we have ignored these traumas - because it's real hard to accept them, especially around how we've dealt with Native Americans and African Americans - and how that's showing up in schools and our community," he said.
He plans to discuss adverse childhood experiences and "how these experiences over time have an effect on an individual as they grow up if they're not addressed in terms of how it affects their behavior, their health behavior, and then can eventually affect their health," he said.
Certain experiences in childhood related to emotional, physical or sexual abuse and household dysfunction, are risk factors for the leading causes of death in adults, according to a study completed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente, a health consortium in California.
The way human beings respond to trauma is often referred to as the "fight or flight" mentality, Simmons said.
"But what happens for some young people, they stay stuck in fight or flight so they're always edgy. They over-respond to a lot of things because they're always afraid," he explains.
The trauma then begins to be expressed in adulthood in behaviors that include eating, drinking and smoking, which translates into health problems, he said.
It can affect the community at large, depending on how people handle the traumatic experience.
"What we know is, even if you had these experiences, if you have a caring adult in your life - it doesn't necessarily have to be a parent - they could help a child deal with that toxic stress," he said.