Racism recognized as possible cause to PTSD

PTSD otherwise known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is more commonly diagnosed with war veterans (a third of troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are reporting symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression or traumatic brain injury). Now the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders- which serves as a universal authority for the diagnosis of psychiatric disorders- is proposing in its fith edition some changes in the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder. This could change how how race-based traumas are diagnosed in ethnic minorities. Before the release of the DSM-5, racism was recognized as a trauma that could potentially cause PTSD, but only in relation to a specific event.  The new criteria is based on some previous research that suggests that “chronic exposure to racial discrimination is analogous to the constant pressure soldiers face on the battlefield”. Here are a few pointers from Medicaldaily.com.

The National Survey of American Life (NSAL) found that African Americans show a prevalence rate of 9.1% for PTSD versus 6.8% in non-Hispanic Whites, indicating a notable mental health disparity (Himle et al., 2009).  Increased rates of PTSD have been found in other groups as well, including Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Pacific Islander Americans. and Southeast Asian refugees (Pole et al., 2008). Furthermore, PTSD may be more disabling for minorities; for example, African Americans with PTSD experience significantly more impairment at work and carrying out everyday activities (Himle, et al. 2009).

Much research has been conducted on the social, economic, and political effects of racism, but little research recognizes the psychological effects of racism on people of color (Carter, 2007).Chou, Asnaani, and Hofmann (2012) found that perceived racial discrimination was associated with increased mental disorders in African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans, suggesting that racism may in itself be a traumatic experience.

The planned changes to the DSM increase the potential for better recognition of race-based trauma, although more research will be needed to understand the mechanism by which this occurs. Additionally, current instruments should be expanded and a culturally competent model of PTSD must be developed to address how culture may differentially influence traumatic stress. In the meantime, clinicians should educate themselves about the impact of racism in lives of their ethnic minority clients, specifically the connection between racist events and trauma.

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