“Can Racism Cause PTSD? Implications for DSM-5”

“One major factor in understanding PTSD in ethnoracial minorities is the impact of racism on emotional and psychological well-being. Racism continues to be a daily part of American culture, and racial barriers have an overwhelming impact on the oppressed. 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…
Currently, the DSM recognizes racism as trauma only when an individual meets DSM criteria for PTSD in relation to a discrete racist event, such as an assault. This is problematic given that many minorities experience cumulative experiences of racism as traumatic, with perhaps a minor event acting as “the last straw” in triggering trauma reactions (Carter, 2007). Thus, current conceptualizations of trauma as a discrete event may be limiting for diverse populations…
minorities may be reluctant to volunteer experiences of racism to White therapists, who comprise the majority of mental health clinicians. Clients may worry that the therapist will not understand, feel attacked, or express disbelief. Additionally, minority clients also may not link current PTSD symptoms to cumulative experiences of discrimination if queried about a single event…
The more subtle forms of racism mentioned may be commonplace, leading to constant vigilance, or “cultural paranoia,” which may be a protective mechanism against racist incidents. However subtle, the culmination of different forms of racism may result in victimization of an individual parallel to that induced by physical or life-threatening trauma.”

! The point here about how little research is done! Like, experiencing prejudice is obviously a trauma but we don’t want to admit that it still happens and we want to make people feel like it’s their responsibility to overcome everything society does to them, so there are definitely disincentives to studying the trauma of prejudice. I mean, I can only imagine how uncomfortable that is to present at conferences, the kinds of questions and looks you would have to deal with.

Also, this is why it’s important to me that any therapist I have be a woman of color, ideally black, so that I don’t have to worry about educating about/”proving” some of these impactful life experiences.

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