Most of us are aware of the causes and impacts of post-traumatic stress, whether we have experienced it personally or know someone who has — anxiety, sleeplessness, hopelessness in the aftermath of a traumatic experience. But what happens when the trauma never ends, for instance for wildfire fighters facing record breaking outbreaks year after year? In Chicago, this trauma can be seen in our communities that face persistent gun violence. What does continuous traumatic stress disorder even mean?
As framed by the Trauma Abuse Treatment Center, continuous traumatic stress disorder (CTSD) applies to ongoing trauma that causes physical and psychological damage. It was first recognized and termed by South African writer Frank Chikane in 1986 as he explored how the apartheid affected a generation of children.
CTSD applies to many all-too-common scenarios, which produce incredible stress that is difficult to cope with, including exposure to:
- Long-term bullying
- Being raised by an alcoholic parent
- Constant exposure to violence
- Police brutality
- Workplace inequality
- Food insecurity and malnutrition
The cumulative impact of continuous trauma exposure can lead to the following symptoms:
- Learning disabilities
- Panic attacks
- Dissociative disorders
- General sickness and immune deficiency
- Violent and impulsive behavior
- Substance abuse and addiction later in life
With greater awareness of the causes and impacts of continuous trauma, perhaps we can collectively bring a more urgent, human-centered approach to addressing the repetitive and persistent crises of our time. As well as start a massive, open discourse about therapy and recovery at the scale of these crises.