As a child, I faced what became my biggest personal challenge — I was molested. This was a traumatizing experience and it forever changed me. What happened to me, I would never want anyone, above all a child to endure. My perceptions, my emotional and mental welfare along with my sense of security drastically shifted in an instance.
Over the past few years, my understanding of mental health and wellness has exploded because of my will to progress and remain on a journey of healing. Out of my own personal experiences and increased knowledge, my impressions related to trauma have expanded.
Young people living in urban communities face a disturbing amount of risk for trauma related experiences. Violence, murder, poverty, poly victimization and the social taboos associated with mental illness are rampant. Unfortunately, as a society we have failed to recognize or respond to the severe impact it has on children.
I believe we have missed the mark with regards to PTSD and children. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental health condition that’s often triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Short term symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety as well as uncontrollable thoughts.
Long term symptoms range from sexual dysfunction, depending on the trauma, or dependence on drugs in an attempt to manage emotional and mental difficulties. Regrettably, we live in a society were mental health issues are over looked, down played and in most cases completely disregarded.
Adolescents, often find themselves in the criminal justice system to mediate social behavioral incidents for untreated and misdiagnosed mental illnesses. Once a child enters the criminal justice system, with the many challenges it presents, they are labeled and face a lifetime of inequality. An arrest or criminal record sets an unfortunate course towards unemployment, poverty and possibly a life of crime. In my observation, recognizing and being proactive in the early stages of social and cognitive development is an important factor in changing the dynamics.
Particularly, in communities were a large section of the children have witnessed high incidences of crime, murder and police brutality. In most urban pockets of the United States children have learned to assimilate to the community norms by developing unhealthy coping skills. I personally understand how easily we can develop these coping methods, forgoing the work needed for healing. I experienced this myself and by the time I reached my thirties, I was broken by my unresolved emotional and mental baggage, which eventually landed me in a mental institution.
Unfortunately, America has not been able to end disparities associated with social injustice and poor economic conditions, primarily in communities of color. The profiling of young black males is the most infectious out birth and continued proliferation of racial tensions.
Police shootings of unarmed citizens, gang violence and crime are leading indicators for turbulent communities for which our inner city youth have to face every day. Blaring gun shots, funerals services for friends and unsafe street corners result in the unrelenting trauma of children. I get it.I understand mostly because I grew up in a community that faced these same kinds of challenges.
Nevertheless, I am saddened at the increased levels of violence that exists in urban communities. The U.S. is the most powerful and influential country in the world and to not come up with a resolution after decades of disproportion is disappointing and unacceptable.
In closing, I encourage you not to forget our children living in poor urban communalities or rush to judge them with all they face in the twenty-first century. I believe we must implement systemic opportunities for young people to feel safe, empowered and whole. Let’s work together to end the continued trauma of our children, who are the most innocent of victims, living in militarized communities filled with uncertainty. Our young people deserve so much better from us. I am personally committed to the work and encourage you to learn more about PTSD in children, to advocate for them and to never minimize the importance of wellness.
Keyon Dooling is a former NBA Player and can be reached through whatsdrivingyou.net