The media is filled with stories of the violence that plagues America’s poorest black and brown neighborhoods, but a recent investigation by ProPublica’s Lois Beckett highlights one of its longest lasting side effects: hundreds of thousands of untreated cases of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Studies show that, overall, about 8 percent of Americans suffer from PTSD at some point in their lives. But the rates appear to be much higher in communities – such as poor, largely African-American pockets of Detroit, Atlanta, Chicago and Philadelphia – where high rates of violent crime have persisted despite a national decline.
Researchers in Atlanta interviewed more than 8,000 inner-city residents and found that about two-thirds said they had been violently attacked and that half knew someone who had been murdered. At least 1 in 3 of those interviewed experienced symptoms consistent with PTSD at some point in their lives – and that’s a "conservative estimate," said Dr. Kerry Ressler, the lead investigator on the project.
"The rates of PTSD we see are as high or higher than Iraq, Afghanistan or Vietnam veterans," Ressler said. "We have a whole population who is traumatized."
PTSD, particularly when it’s untreated, can take a huge toll on relationships, parenting and finding a job. According to some researchers, it can also lead to increased aggression and violent behavior. ProPublica points out that most of the nation’s trauma centers aren’t equipped to deal with the problem.
ProPublica surveyed a top-level trauma center in each of the 22 cities with the nation’s highest homicide rates. Just one, the Spirit of Charity Trauma Center in New Orleans, currently screens all seriously injured patients for PTSD. At another, Detroit Receiving Hospital, psychologists talk with injured crime victims about PTSD.