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Empowering Marginalized Groups in Trauma Recovery

Trauma can happen to anyone at any time and place across their lifespan. Whether your trauma is associated with adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) or occurred in adulthood, trauma does not discriminate. Everyone will and has experienced trauma, from car accidents to the loss of a loved one. However, as the National Cancer Institute (NCI) notes, marginalized groups experience a disproportionate number of traumatic events.

Many of the traumas marginalized groups like people of color, women, and individuals with disabilities experience are interrelated to discrimination. The stress of historical and everyday experiences of discrimination can take a profound toll on your physical and psychological well-being. Thus, addressing the unique experiences of marginalized groups is important for supporting inclusive trauma recovery.

At The Guest House, we recognize that trauma takes many forms that impede well-being. When your brain and body are overwhelmed by the stress of deeply disturbing experiences, coping can become impaired. The desire to escape the pain of your experiences, coupled with everyday triggers, can lead to maladaptive coping strategies. For marginalized groups, the long-term exposure to experiencing and witnessing trauma leaves no room to breathe or process those experiences.

With no space to recover or process your trauma, your resilience and capacity for hope progressively erodes. Therefore, we are committed to providing holistic care to address your individual experiences with trauma. Through individualized care, you have access to therapeutic modalities that can be customized to match your specific needs.

Yet, you may wonder what types of traumas are unique to the experiences of marginalized groups. How does discrimination-based trauma impede healing?

History of Trauma: Types of Discrimination for Marginalized Groups

Discrimination and trauma are integrally linked to each other. The experiences of discrimination create repeated experiences of othering that chip away at your psychological health. Thus, understanding the foundation and types of discrimination can support awareness of trauma for marginalized groups. As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) notes, discrimination is a socially structured action that focuses on creating unfair or unjustified situations for specific individuals and groups.

The social constructs formed in discrimination are based on social interactions. Those discrimination-based social interactions are designed to protect the interests of privileged groups to the detriment of other groups. Moreover, the stress that comes from different types of discrimination, like racial discrimination, contributes to trauma for marginalized groups. Listed below, as the HHS also notes, are some of the different levels of discrimination and their impact on well-being:

  • Structural discrimination: The macro-level conditions that limit the opportunities, resources, and well-being of marginalized groups
    • Can occur as everyday discrimination and or as a major discriminatory event
    • Negatively impacts the physical and psychological well-being of individuals and communities
      • Residential segregation
        • Impacts social and economic resources for individuals, families, and communities
      • Poor access to quality education
        • Disparities in access to housing and economic resources place marginalized groups in schools with fewer resources
      • Increased incarceration rates compared to other groups
        • Marginalized groups are more likely to be arrested and incarcerated
          • Receive harsher punishment for lesser crimes and crimes of equal measure compared to other groups
            • Negatively impacts families, housing, employment, political participation, and health
  • Individual discrimination: Repeated negative interactions between individuals in ¬†institutional roles, as well as in public and private life
    • Can occur as a part of everyday discrimination and or as a major discriminatory event
      • Being treated with less respect than others in institutional and other settings
      • Receiving poor services and or threats and harassment based on individual characteristics like race and or gender
        • Restaurants
        • Stores
        • Healthcare providers
    • The chronic stress of everyday discrimination practices increases the risk for unhealthy coping strategies like drinking and smoking
      • This leads to physical health and mental health disparities for marginalized groups
  • Microaggressions: Subtle, indirect, or unintentional acts of discrimination toward marginalized groups
    • Being ignored and or excluded at your place of work
    • You are frequently interrupted by others
    • Others make assumptions about your skills, abilities, and temperament based on stereotypes
      • Assuming when a student of color does well on an assignment, they must have cheated
    • Being subjected to harsher criticism and judgment compared to White counterparts
    • Apparent refusal to pronounce or spell your name correctly
    • Others ignore your instruction and seek clarification from others
    • Your opinion and perspective are constantly dismissed
    • Assumptions that the most senior person in a place of work is white
    • People move away from you and or hold their breath when they are around you
    • Others refuse to make eye contact with you
    • A seeming lack of awareness of your personal space and boundaries
    • Repeated encounters with microaggressions lead to psychological distress that creates triggers for traumatic stress responses in everyday life and interactions
  • Racism: Discrimination based on race and ethnicity
    • This leads to a variety of disparities in areas like health, housing, economics, education, and social resources
      • White patients receive higher quality of care in healthcare settings compared to marginalized groups
        • 40.6% better care than Black patients
        • 40.5% better care than American Indian/Alaska Native patients
        • 34.5% better care than Hispanic patients
        • 28.6% better care than Asian and Pacific Islander patients
  • Sexism: Discrimination based on gender
    • Disproportionately impacts women
    • Negatively impacts women’s access to resources and opportunities like education, economic and employment advancement, and health
    • The cultural roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes expected of people based on sex and gender assigned at birth
      • Discrimination based on gender increases women’s risk for poor physical and mental health outcomes
        • Levels of unhappiness, loneliness, and depression are experienced 30% more for women who recently experienced discrimination based on their gender
  • Sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination (SOGI): Frequent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity
    • LGBTQIA+ individuals have a higher prevalence of lifetime and day-to-day experiences with discrimination compared to their heterosexual counterparts
    • Youths have an elevated risk for emotional distress, depressive symptoms, self-harm, and suicidal ideation
      • Transgender individuals, in particular, are one of the marginalized groups with the highest risk of experiencing discrimination and discrimination-based violence
        • This contributes to higher rates of suicide among this population
  • Ableism: Discrimination based on physical ability and or mental challenges
    • A long history of discrimination and involuntary institutionalization
      • Discrimination leads to disparities in access to resources and opportunities to lead quality lives
        • Poor insurance coverage
        • Inaccessible transportation and buildings
        • Lack of support resources in school, work, and other public spaces
        • Discriminatory attributes and behaviors from others
          • Being ignored
          • Dismissing opinions and wants
          • Questioning why you need accommodations
      • Contributes to increased feelings of distress, poor physical and psychological health, and social isolation and loneliness
  • Ageism: Discrimination based on age
    • Disportiantly impacts older people
      • Being ignored
      • Your opinions and or suggestions are dismissed
      • People doubt your abilities
        • Loss of employment
      • Poor senior living options
      • Abuse from caregivers
    • Increases risk for depressive symptoms, health issues, isolation, and loneliness
  • Intersectionality: Being a part of several marginalized groups can have a profound impact on how you experience discrimination
    • Black women are exposed to multiple repeated intersecting forms of discrimination compared to Black men and other women
      • Elevates risk for health, social, economic, political, employment, and education disparities

Looking at different types of discrimination highlights the intentional and unintentional harm discrimination can have on marginalized groups. Further, over time, the psychological stress of discrimination can compound as unaddressed trauma. With a deeper awareness of discrimination, you can better understand the specific traumas that harm marginalized groups.

Understanding Trauma Types for Marginalized Groups

According to Current Psychiatry Reports, traumatization and trauma-related disorders are higher for marginalized groups than other populations. Some of the different ways trauma experiences impact marginalized groups is through:

  • Historical trauma: Complex and collective trauma experienced over time and across generations
    • The cumulative experiences of emotional, physical, and mental harm
    • Historical trauma encompasses intergenerational trauma
      • This trauma spans across multiple generations who share an identity, affiliation, or circumstance
        • Culturally related communities and their descendants
  • Community trauma: A type of collective trauma experienced by a community of people
    • A few people experience a traumatic event that has traumatic structural and social consequences
    • Community members experience trauma
    • The collective group or community can include neighborhoods, shared cultural identity, and organizations like members of a church
    • Trauma based on social inequalities
      • Racism
      • Poverty
      • Oppression
      • Exclusion
      • Erasure of culture and communities
      • Native American assimilation
    • Community trauma also includes adverse community environments and or experiences
    • This contributes to community-level inequalities
      • Systemic Racism
      • Limited economic opportunities
      • Lack of social services
      • Poor housing conditions
      • Prevalent community violence
  • Immigration trauma: Increased exposure to traumatic experiences for refugees and migrants
    • Family separation
    • Limited or interrupted schooling
    • Lack of legal status increases psychological distress and other risk factors
      • Elevated risk for mental health challenges
        • Anxiety
        • Depressive symptoms
        • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Community violence: This can encompass traumatic events like community violence, exposure to crime, police violence/abuse, school shootings, and natural disasters
    • Marginalized groups like Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) are disproportionately impacted by community violence
      • Increases depressive and PTSD-related symptoms
  • ACEs: Marginalized groups like BIPOC, women, low-income, and immigrant communities have a higher risk of experiencing multiple traumas in childhood
    • Childhood trauma often intersects with community trauma and historical or intergenerational trauma for marginalized groups
      • Multiple inequalities contribute to increased vulnerability to trauma across generations
        • Lack of or denial of resources, services, and opportunities
      • Exposure to higher rates of violence increases the risk of poverty, incarceration, and physical and mental health issues in adulthood

Knowing the types of trauma that impact marginalized groups increases your understanding of the roots of discrimination-based trauma. More awareness of the types of trauma helps you get to the roots of trauma in marginalized groups. With more awareness, you can better understand the prevalence of mental health issues for vulnerable and underserved populations.

Addressing the Mental Health of Marginalized Groups

As noted in Frontiers in Psychology, mental health challenges are associated with more frequent life stressors. Mental health challenges are often a product of biological, environmental, social, and cultural factors like discrimination. The stress of traumatic experiences from discrimination, coupled with its psychological consequences, creates a devastating cycle. Thus, the cumulative nature of discrimination-based trauma overtaxes your adaptive coping resources. When your ability to adapt is overwhelmed by trauma, it becomes difficult to effectively respond to further stressors.

Moreover, the perceived discrimination marginalized groups experience is associated with greater depressive and PTSD symptoms compared to privileged populations. The ambiguousness of discriminatory situations like microaggressions further increases psychological distress. Through implicit discrimination like institutional racism, marginalized groups are left feeling hyper-vigilant and uncertain about every interaction and experience.

Listed below are some of the ways discrimination and implicit forms of discrimination contribute to poor psychological outcomes:

  • Questioning the roots of every negative interaction and experience
    • Are negative experiences a result of personal inadequacies or discrimination?
  • Negative experiences can increase self-stigma about your abilities and worth
    • Gender roles impede the way women interact with men in different settings like work and healthcare
    • Racism impedes the way BIOPC interact with their White counterparts in work, health, and legal systems

More insight into how discrimination impairments coping strategies and mental health highlights the importance of resilience in trauma. Experiencing multiple and ambiguous traumas, which is common for marginalized groups, eats away at resilience. Without resilience, adaptive coping strategies erode, and unhealthy coping like substance use can develop.

The Impact of Trauma on Substance Use Disorder

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), health inequalities influence trauma and, thus, coping mechanisms. Specifically, deficiencies in social determinants of health (SDOH) and structural inequalities contribute to and exacerbate substance use and psychological challenges. The challenges of SDOH and structural inequalities are particularly harmful to marginalized groups. Through the traumatic experiences of inequality, substance use disorder (SUD) becomes a heightened risk factor.

Trauma-based SUD and mental health disorders are often a product of the erosion or lack of adaptive coping strategies. Not only does repeated discrimination-based trauma increase self-medicating behaviors to cope with distress, but it also impedes access to effective coping tools. Discrimination and inequality limit access to services and resources, which impedes the awareness needed to build adaptive coping skills.

Listed below are some of the ways SDOH and structural inequalities contribute to impaired coping for marginalized groups:

  • Black or African-American communities:
    • History of racism from public institutions increases fear of government-led programs
    • Lack of awareness of services
    • Unaddressed cultural contexts related to mental health and SUD stigma
    • Limited or no access to information about support resources
    • No access to necessary financial resources for treatment
    • Overcriminalization for substance use compared to other populations
  • Latinx communities:
    • Lack of economic resources for treatment
    • Language barriers
    • Difficulties with assimilation into another culture
  • Native American or Indgiounues American communities:
    • History of trauma from forced assimilation and relocation
    • Geographical isolation from services and resources
    • Lack of services that address cultural beliefs and practices
    • No financial resources to support treatment
  • Asian communities:
    • Unaddressed cultural contexts related to mental health and SUD stigma
      • Avoiding shame-producing feelings and situations
    • Lack of awareness of service benefits
  • LGBTQIA+ communities:
    • Early experiences with emotional trauma
      • Parental denial or rejection of orientation and or gender identity
      • Getting kicked out
        • Higher prevalence of experiences being unhoused
      • Frequent experiences with bullying and discrimination in childhood and adulthood
      • Increased exposure to emotional and physical abuse
    • Heightened stress from prejudice and discrimination
    • Lack of services and resources that address the individual and community experiences
    • Perceived lack of understanding of needs by healthcare providers
      • Increased difficulty reaching out to available services and resources

Looking at some of the inequalities that increase the risk for SUD highlights the overlapping challenges discrimination causes. Difficulties with discrimination not only contribute to SUD and other co-occurring disorders but also barriers to treatment. Therefore, implementing trauma-informed care is vital to dismantling barriers to care for marginalized groups.

Empowering Healing at The Guest House

Trauma has a profound impact on the way you feel and think about yourself, others, and the world. Traumatic experiences shake the foundation of your sense of self and the world, which is further exacerbated for marginalized groups. The challenges of discrimination encourage unhealthy thinking patterns about your sense of belonging and self-worth. Thus, engaging in treatment that specifically addresses the impact of trauma can support long-term well-being. Through the principles of trauma-informed care, you have access to support that promotes healing and reduces the risk of re-traumatization.

Listed below are the six principles of trauma-informed care:

  • Safety
  • Trustworthiness and transparency
  • Peer support
  • Collaboration and mutuality
  • Empowerment and choice
  • Cultural, historical, and gender issues

Moreover, trauma-informed care can be particularly empowering for marginalized groups. Through trauma-informed care and policies, you can access resources to dismantle unhealthy thinking patterns to heal. Therefore, at The Guest House, it is our fundamental mission to uncover the roots of your self-defeating behaviors through trauma-informed care. We recognize the detrimental role trauma plays in many areas of life. Thus, we are committed to providing holistic care and a wide range of modalities to address your specific recovery needs.

Trauma is highly detrimental to the well-being of marginalized groups. Marginalized groups like people of color, women, LGBTQIA+ individuals, and individuals with disabilities often experience chronic trauma due to discrimination and institutional inequalities. Discrimination-based trauma increases the risk for SUD and other mental health disorders. However, with trauma-informed care, you can be empowered to address trauma and heal. Through trauma-informed care, you gain access to resources that increase your awareness of the impact of discrimination to get to the root of your self-defeating thinking and behavior patterns to build healthier coping tools. Thus, at The Guest House, we are committed to providing holistic trauma-informed care that addresses your specific experiences and needs to recover. Call us at (855) 483-7800 today.