May 27, 2013

Racism causes PTSD in DSM-5

Changes In DSM-5: Racism Can Cause PTSD Similar To That Of Soldiers After War

Updates to the recently released DSM-5 could potentially transform how race-based traumas are diagnosed in ethnic minorities.

By Nadia-Elysse Harris
Dr. Monnica T. Williams suggests that proposed changes in the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) could increase the potential for better recognition of race-based trauma in racial and ethnic minorities.

In a recent article in Psychology Today, Williams, who is a clinical psychologist and the associate director of the University of Louisville's Center for Mental Health Disparities, said that before the release of the DSM-5 Thursday, racism was recognized as a trauma that could potentially cause PTSD, but only in relation to a specific event. There had to be an incident of intense fear, helplessness, or horror for such consideration. For instance, if someone was assaulted in a racially-motivated event, then racism qualified as a sufficient trauma to be categorized as a cause of PTSD.

But now, under the new definition, the requirements for fear, helplessness, and horror have been removed, making room for the more lasting effects of subtle racism to be considered in the discussion of race-based traumas.

In 2011, researchers found that African Americans who reported experiences of racial discrimination had higher odds of suffering from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). An article on PsychCentral termed the phenomenon as "racial battle fatigue, saying that "exposure to racial discrimination is analogous to the constant pressure soldiers face on the battlefield."

"While the term [racial battle fatigue] is certainly not trying to say that the conditions are exactly what soldiers face on a battlefield, it borrows from the idea that stress is created in chronically unsafe or hostile environments," said Dr. Jose Soto, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at University of California, Berkeley.
Comment:  I've written about this subject several times. For instance, in:

Racism linked to addictive behavior
Indians suffer toxic stress
"Thick dark fog" = PTSD
Subtle racism = psychological torture

I'd call it common sense that being persecuted and discriminated against is psychologically harmful. So I'm glad to see the psychological community is finally recognizing this.

Of course, this point also applies to the less virulent forms of racism such as stereotyping. That's what we're talking when we talk about things like "subtle racism," "unconscious racism," and "microaggression."

Being portrayed as a whooping savage in a headdress every day takes a psychological toll. Contrary to the unfounded saying, words and images will hurt you.

For more on the subject, see "Why Can't Indians Just Move On?" and Unabomber Shows Effects of Stress.

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