The Health of a Nation

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, California’s first-ever Surgeon General

The government is open for business. I can imagine the hoorah of many homes who have been pulling from savings to support the loss of funds, gaining help from family, friends, religious groups, and/or struggling to pay bills.

The President’s advocacy and protest for a Border wall by shutting down the government has had great effects on the nation. Just to name a few:

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) halted non-essential work putting food inspections at risk.

Hurricane prep slowed down as there was no funding for activities such as, emergency trainings and field experiments.

Tensions rose between federal inmates and prison guards. According to CNN, federal inmates received more treats than usual during the shutdown while prison guards worked without pay. And the guards were not happy about it.

Imagine not receiving a paycheck for 35 days. Imagine having little to no savings. Imagine having kids to support and your landlord threatening eviction. Imagine having to still work with no pay.

I can’t imagine.

As a Social Worker I see the trauma this shutdown has caused. The plans that must be put in place to welcome individuals back to work, manage employees who were non-voluntarily off for 35 days, and put out fires that went unaddressed during the shutdown. I can imagine the stress, anxiety, long work nights some individuals may have to endure.

The Black Institute suggests that there are 18,590 African American civilian workers in California who were affected by the shutdown. The Institute shares the history of African Americans taking government jobs as a form of economic security (e.g. good jobs, great benefits, upward mobility). For 35 days, that security was compromised.

Thankfully, California has named Dr. Nadine Burke Harris as the State’s First Surgeon General. Someone who will build a team and be responsible for the public health of the state. Dr. Harris is a pediatrician and Founder/CEO of Center for Youth Wellness (CYW). She has studied the long-term effects of childhood trauma in relation to how trauma manifests in physical conditions.

It is my hope that by having our first Surgeon General who is an expert on trauma and stress, we will have more resources when we experience and are forced to bounce back from experiences such as our economic security being compromised. Perhaps a website, a support group, or brochures with how to support civilian workers individuals will be readily available. It takes a village to keep a state healthy.

We can all do our part in preserving the mental health of the state. It will take support from the whole state.

To read more about Dr. Harris’ work, catch her TEDMED Talk from 2014 here.