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Five Ways to Cope & Build Community Resiliency Following Adverse Community Experiences

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Dr. Brittany Peters, LCSW, MCAP, Qualified Supervisor for Clinical Social Work

The Derek Chauvin trial, Antonio Brown Jr. (shot while law enforcement was serving a warrant), Ma’Khia Bryant (a foster youth shot and killed by law enforcement following a call for help), nationwide protests, grocery store shootings, Florida’s “Anti-Riot” bill—these are recent examples of community trauma that may undermine our individual and collective ability to cope and build resiliency.

What is Trauma?

Any experience that is perceived to be highly distressing and disturbing is considered a trauma. Trauma has a profound impact on our overall health outcomes. When a person experiences trauma during the first five years of life, a critical period for brain development, it impacts the size of the cerebral cortex.

This means functional limitations may occur in the areas of memory, thinking, language, and perceptual awareness. When trauma occurs between the ages of 0 and 17, it increases one’s risk of developing adverse health outcomes such as diabetes, heart disease, asthma, substance misuse, kidney disease, and even stroke.

Adverse Community Trauma occurs when there is an increased level of violence, urban decay, crumbling infrastructure, and poverty in the community. What do we do when the trauma occurs around us—not in our homes but at our schools, where we shop, or on social media?

communityHere are five ways to cope and build resiliency within your community

Focus on self-healing

To truly counter the impact of individual and collective trauma, you must work on yourself first. Invest in yourself by learning to understand how your trauma manifests itself in your daily life. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study done by Kaiser Permanente yielded data that suggest many Americans have experienced at least one ACE, such as parental separation, having a family member in jail, family violence, or exposure to mental health problems and substance misuse.

Exercise and improve your overall well-being

Many do not follow up with their annual dental, vision, and physical exams, even when they have insurance. Exposure to individual and collective trauma has long-lasting effects on the body’s central stress response system. Because trauma can cause us to be more reactive to stressors, it is vital to engage in healthy activities and eating. Get outside, walk, drink water, and schedule those annual exams. These steps can mitigate the impact of trauma, can help us cope, and are overall preventive measures when done regularly.

Reclaim spaces

Many impoverished communities need redesigned spaces—spaces that can be used as gardens and murals to depict and honor historical events—to reduce the appeal of restructuring the community through gentrification.

Reach back

The Sankofa (SAHN-koh-fah), a Ghanaian word that means to retrieve and build resiliency in communities, teaches us the importance of investing our talents in the community. The Sankofa is mentioned in Dr. Marva Lewis’s work on preventing intergenerational transmission of historical trauma and Dr. Joy DeGuy’s work on posttraumatic slave syndrome. The Sankofa is used to refer to the importance of reaching out to help youth develop themselves. This can be achieved through mentoring, job training, and encouraging them to attend college.

Set boundaries

Many consider boundaries as something to set in intimate relationships. Boundaries help support your ability to do all the skills mentioned thus far. Appropriate boundaries belong at work and with friends, family, neighbors, and especially those with whom you share intimate spaces. Boundaries, like congressional districts, should be reviewed, reevaluated, and reestablished every so often, especially when you receive new information.

About the author:

Dr. Brittany Peters has over 14 years of experience in community mental health as a clinician, advocate, consultant, and clinical director. As a licensed clinical social worker, certified in addictions, and a qualified supervisor, Dr. Brittany devotes much of her time to improving clinical services in the community through the training and development of counselors and other professionals.

She owns and operates a private practice, Center for Wellness & Clinical Development, and teaches collegiate courses for two major universities.

Continuing her belief in civic engagement, Dr. Brittany works on many boards and committees at a local and state level, focusing on substance misuse, child welfare, and community mental health. Dr. Brittany is the current Chair of the Health & Wellness Committee with the Pinellas County Urban League Young Professionals, Co-chair of the Tampa Bay Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), the Behavioral Health Interest Chair for NASW Statewide, is trained as part of the Statewide Crisis Intervention Rapid Response Team, and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pinellas County National Alliance on Mental Illness. She also volunteers her time with The Well for Life and League of Women Voters. Dr. Brittany is a native Floridian born and raised in Tallahassee, FL, and a proud dog mom.


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