There’s so much to say about cultural trauma that this may end up being added on to in a future blog post.
First, we will take a look at the basic definition of psychological trauma before we dive into the cultural aspects. The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition) describes trauma as symptoms that follow major events that involve any sort of fear-induced emotion or factor. Usually, these events are sexual abuse, physical abuse, and traumatic events such as shootings, bombings, or other types of violence. When we establish an understanding of the wide range of trauma that can exist, it brings a new perspective to the table when we talk about it because it seems like more and more people have experienced some sort of trauma either growing up or later in life. Now, we can look at how cultural factors can create trauma.
First, cultural influences can include many things. It can mean the family you grew up with, the street you grew up on, the society around you, behaviors, actions, and everything that is focused on a specific way of life. Without considering racial factors, we have socioeconomic influences that are also included in cultural trauma as well. Including racial factors, it brings a whole new discussion to be had as well. In some cultures, the stigma for mental health is still prevalent and causes many people to avoid necessary mental health treatment which eventually spurs into a larger problem down the road. The avoidance of mental health can be traumatic on its own.
So now, let’s bring it into a recent perspective. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on nearly every country on the planet. Due to the nature of the pandemic, it left many countries with uncertainty in future steps and goals – which, in turn, affected the way many individuals looked at the future as well. One of the biggest markers that I know is that when facing anxiety, many of the symptoms come from not knowing what’s going to happen next. If we have no guidance on what to do next, we feel lost, confused, and maybe even overwhelmed.
Alternatively, we can look at it from a literal cultural perspective. In many ethnic cultures, mental health is looked at as something that makes you weak or dependent on emotions so they choose to focus their attention on more “productive” traits such as physical wellness. However, one of the biggest things that I noticed with that is, over time, those individuals with physical strength and responsible traits have no stress management skills. At a certain point, the stress begins to affect the heart or the brain – and heart attacks and strokes become much more common. Stress management can be learned through proper mental health care!
This also brings the idea of institutionalized care as I mentioned in an editorial I wrote here. The editorial touches on the fact that some mothers who were forced into institutionalized care felt that they needed to “get over” the things they endured, and they instilled those behaviors in their children. Those mothers felt that facing the traumas would have caused more emotional pain in their children. They also felt that their mistreatment was just the way it was supposed to be. The mistreatment by institutions forces a negative parenting strategy on mothers which essentially affects the children. The same concept applies to pregnant mothers – if a pregnant woman experiences trauma during pregnancy, it is likely that the mental and physical health of the fetus is also affected due to the hormonal changes that trauma causes (on top of pregnancy hormones) and the epigenetic factors that literally could carry trauma through the generations.
So, there are so many ways that cultural trauma happens. So many examples. The bottom line is that mental health is a priority and it always should be.