Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Trauma suffered in childhood echoes across generations, study finds

Psychiatry has always grasped well the relationship between trauma and mental illness. Genetic memory and generational trauma are concepts with which many of us are familiar in the context of Native American history and Indigenous ways of knowing that tie directly to wars, exploitation, colonization and genocide—the true cost of "modernity" that issues from the Enlightenment—that has lasted for 526 years since Columbus landed on an island in the Bahamas archipelago that he later named San Salvador.  

How dare Columbus name us!  We on this continent already had our names.  We were "Turtle Island" (a name that many Indigenous people had for the North American continent), "Abya Yala" (from the Kuna Indians of Panama in reference to the entire hemisphere), and "Tawantinsuyú," (Inca Empire) and various others.  But then that's what conquest and colonization are about.

Why the heck have we had to fight so hard with the State Board of Education just to get one course, "Mexican American Studies" into the state curriculum?  And why did Arizona have to have such a vicious political, policy, and court battle over this, too?  And why, after we won a course at the April 11th meeting of the Texas SBOE did we then have to struggle again for a name that honored a legitimate field of study, rather than the name that they paternalistically gave us not unlike Columbus' naming of San Salvador?

I've blogged about this sordid narrative continuously herein so feel free to keyword search this under "Mexican American Studies," "SBOE," and "Ethnic Studies."

And why have we had to struggle so ridiculously hard against our mind-numbing, punishing, high-stakes testing system when it has been demonstrably invalid, unfair, non-research-based since day one?

The answer is the long arm of the conquest together with its colonial designs and its "imperial subjects" that largely unbeknownst to them—after all, "they're just living their lives"—are agents of empire and its plans for us.  Plus, it's a highly effective weapon of mass distraction that keeps us on the defensive, and in so doing, from engendering alternatives that I know are within our reach.  

That is, the cost of fighting high-stakes testing—which we must obviously continue to do—is that of forgoing the opportunity to radically re-think an educational model based on shared values where schools are sacred places premised on caring relationships and responsible, ethical partnerships where community-based organizations and institutions work together in a democratic, transparent, and open fashion.  I know that this is possible because that is what some among us, myself included, are doing in the context of our Saturday academy, Academia Cuauhtli (Eagle Academy).
See video at

Do read the sobering piece by Denise Powell below as she offers a psychiatric lens through which we should understand the humanitarian crisis our country is currently enmeshed in.  

However, what I would add is that we need to address not only the mental health in our education system, but also the mental illness induced by it through its alienating practices that turn parents into passive customers, children into objects, teachers into widgets, and the public into spectators, in order to limit and reduce any sense of possibility of what education in a democracy could be—including a system where no child or parent is unequal or inferior because of their zip code, documentation status, race, ethnicity, or sexuality.  

Instead, these are emancipatory spaces that foster thriving, as opposed to just getting by or meeting the grade.  These are places that teach children and not subjects and where assessment is based on relationships, as opposed to "metrics," and "evaluation," as opposed to "grading" and rules.

So yes, children do need health classes throughout to boost their resiliency. However, this would still only be a necessary, but not sufficient, strategy since the root causes of mental illness will not have been addressed.

I nevertheless read this piece by Denise Powell with great interest in light of today's victims of state-sanction, parental separation along the U.S.-Mexico border.  I go to bed thinking of, and praying for, them.  I wake up thinking of, and praying for, them.  

I know that people around the world are equally horrified at what our government is doing to these children and families in using them as political fodder for their equally disgusting campaigns that instigate fear on the basis of falsehoods, un-truths, lies, distortions, bullying, power-mongering, and the like in order to incite an already insecure, mostly white, electorate.

To be sure, this arrogant, and frequently hostile, way of knowing and being has enjoyed fertile ground in state curricula that has historically exhibited a deafening silence when it comes to the histories, stories, contributions, aesthetics, ways of knowing and being in the world with respect to people of color and all Third World peoples.  And what about language?  Why aren't we a multilingual country?  Why are we not learning Mandarin in addition to Spanish and many other languages?  And why aren't we supporting Indigenous projects embarked in historical recovery, language revitalization, and a restoration of Indigenous languages, arts, science, and culture? And how is this NOT a policing of identities—to which Native American scholar, Dr. Brayboy (2011), refers to in his work as a "policing of Native American bodies and minds."

And then there's all the good, white liberals, in and out of the academy, that profit from this system—even if they, too, suffer under its objectifying forms and manifestations.  Perhaps willing beneficiaries of epistemic arrogance and narrow-mindedness, they are all nevertheless just as responsible as the right-wing ideologues that they disingenuously deride. Such persons have basically decided that they're going to "ride this white thing out, blinders on," if you will. 

"Life is good."  "Don't turn over the apple cart, Angela."

And I don't necessarily think that even in this scenario, that they are being completely disingenuous because their culture—one that I know intimately—either did or did not provide the history, conceptual frameworks, experiences, or tools to know the difference. 

I shudder to my core as I consider the long-term consequences for these children, particularly the babies, the little ones, with no capacity to express themselves and how our government is robbing them not only of their childhood, but their very right to mental, physical, psychic, spiritual, and emotional well-being.  I also fear and am deeply troubled as I ponder what lays ahead for them even if they are reunited with their parents after such a long time period of separation and abuse at the hand of our government, government contractors, ICE workers, and all the arbiters of cruelty and unspeakable violence to their bodies, minds, and spirits.
Make no mistake.  These are crimes against humanity that scream for justice.
Angela Valenzuela

Trauma suffered in childhood echoes across generations, study finds

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles and published today in Pediatrics, finds that traumatic events in childhood increase the risk of mental health and behavioral problems not just for that person but also for their children.

“Early-life experiences -- stressful or traumatic ones in particular -- have intergenerational consequences for child behavior and mental health," the lead author, Adam Schickedanz, clinical instructor in pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, told ABC News. "This demonstrates one way in which all of us carry our histories with us, which our study shows has implications for our parenting and our children's health.”
Asked by ABC News how the research may relate to the more than 2,000 children recently separated from their families after crossing the U.S. border, Schickedanz said all families who participated in the study were from the U.S. but that evidence suggests the effects of adverse childhood events "take a toll in large part as a result of toxic stress responses that appear to be universal, since they have been demonstrated across families from diverse backgrounds."
The researchers looked at the effects over a generation when a child grows up in an unstable environment, suffers neglect or has absent parents. "Based on the available evidence, one would expect that the stresses and trauma children are experiencing due to family separation at the border will have intergenerational behavioral health consequences," Schickedanz said.
The study used a national sample of families from previous research -- parents who had participated in a 2014 Child Development Supplement and 2,529 of their children who had complete data in the 2014 Childhood Retrospective Circumstances Study.
The severity of a child's behavioral issues was measured through a scale called the behavior problems index. Researchers gave the primary caregivers of children ages 3 to 17 years old a series of questions to assess present problems, including with anxiety, depression, dependency, hyperactivity, and aggression.
The study found a link between children with a high rate of behavioral problems and parents who had experienced a greater number of adverse childhood events, ACEs.
Parents who growing up suffered four or more adverse events before they were 18 -- including neglect, abuse and household dysfunction -- were more likely to have children with behavioral issues, such as being hyperactive or having problems regulating their emotions, the research found.
Among the group studied, one-fifth of the parents had four or more traumatic experiences as children.
The researchers also found that a parent's gender was a factor in the outcome of the child. Children's outcomes were more negatively affected when it was their mothers, rather than fathers, who suffered trauma as children. Researchers explained this by noting that mothers are more often the primary caregivers.
This is the first study showing a correlation between adverse events in childhood and outcomes for the children of those who suffered the original trauma, and the researchers don’t want to stop there.
“Right now, we are exploring whether these intergenerational [adverse event] associations persist across more than one generation. In fact our study team's next step is to examine whether grandparents' [adverse childhood events] can be linked to their grandchildren's behavioral health.”
While this study focused on the behavioral consequences of traumatic childhood experiences, other research has shown that adverse childhood events affect physical health, increasing the risk of chronic disease and premature mortality later in life.
Denise Powell, M.D. candidate, is a student from Jackson, Mississippi, working in the ABC News Medical Unit.

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