NEW HAVEN >> Police officers who visit homes with children exposed to traumatic situations such as domestic violence can face an uncomfortable reality.
It’s something Police Chief Anthony Campbell spoke about Wednesday during a forum focused on how local providers can assist children who experience trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. The forum was held by U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.
“One of the things that is a reality that we understand as an organization, a progressive organization, is that sometimes, we as police officers can be a source of the trauma for children,” Campbell said.
Such a notion exposes how fragile these situations are and why Campbell said it’s key for officers to provide insight and understanding to children in domestic violence situations. There are other ways this is being accomplished: For years, police have partnered with the Child Study Center at the Yale School of Medicine, sending officers responding to domestic violence cases out with clinicians. Campbell has also advocated for the creation of a regional family justice center, which would provide numerous services for domestic violence victims under a single facility.
Murphy, a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education Labor & Pension, and co-author of the Mental Health Reform Act, said Wednesday’s conversation was also an opportunity to gather information he could bring back to colleagues in Washington. In addition to Campbell, representatives from Clifford Beers Clinic, the Post Traumatic Stress Center in New Haven and others affiliated with the Child Study Center were in attendance.
Murphy said Congress is still debating a Republican-led health care bill that would lead to a $1 billion decrease in Medicaid. Such a cut would “dismantle” trauma services organized in New Haven, Murphy said.
“Clinics would disappear, clinicians would go onto other businesses, the services that you’re beginning to put together to address trauma and PTSD here in New Haven would be fundamentally altered,” Murphy said.
Locally, Murphy said he tried to create more livable and safe communities by working with Mayor Toni Harp, supporting redevelopment projects and advocating for stronger gun safety laws. He said he wanted to focus on community providers that can provide help to young people who may develop PTSD.
“This has to be viewed as a public health challenge,” Murphy said.
Maysa Akbar is CEO of Integrated Wellness Group and a certified adolescent and child clinical psychologist. An assistant clinical professor at the Child Study Center, Akbar said she’s completed a book on urban trauma in communities of color, many of whom may see certain characteristic of trauma as “normal.” Preconceived ideas about mental health treatment also affects people’s willingness to seek treatment. “They’re not seen as abnormal because when you are living in a situation that seems like everyone is living in and it is part of your everyday life and experience, then it doesn’t seem abnormal,” Akbar said. “There are fears about entering the mental health system. There are fears of being labeled. There are fears of being thought of as ‘crazy.’”
Akbar’s comments underscored a prevalent theme of Wednesday’s discussion: Racism toward blacks and Latinos has affected how trauma is addressed by individuals in these communities. Oppression continues to this day, Akbar said, which further challenges how people in communities of color can treat trauma. Other attendees pointed out how, for police specifically, the tense relationship between police and communities of color can further create obstacles in situations where trauma can be developed.
“We’re talking about generations of trauma that have not just permeated the way that we live and exist, but it has permeated into our very biology,” Akbar said.
Child Study Center Harris Professor of Child Psychiatry Steven Marans is an adult and child psychoanalyst who has worked closely with several federal agencies on trauma response. He said while most people know what it’s like to have feelings of anxiety or sadness, not everyone knows what it’s like to be traumatized.
“There is a difference of magnitude that is important and significant and I fear that sometimes we overuse the term,” Marans said.
Trauma that can lead to PTSD is the kind that leaves someone in a state of absolute helplessness and the “unanticipated realization of our worst nightmares.” While someone can be traumatized, Marans said there is still a strong possibility for recovery that can help avoid PTSD’s development.
“What we do know, is when there’s a failure of recovery, that not only do we see increased rates of PTSD, but that these also impact how children can learn, how they can feel mastery or not,” Marans said. Untreated traumatization can lead to other components such as increased anxiety, depression, alcohol use and further victimization.
Partnering with police has allowed the Child Study Center to reach even more people, and by extention, help them.
“Who better than our colleagues in policing to be one of the vanguards for identifying children and their caregivers who are at greatest risk because they have in an unanticipated way have been confronted by the realization of their worst nightmares,” Marans said.