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Your Resource for ACES Prevention and Georgia Resiliency
  • Writer's pictureBrianna Halliburton

Complex-PTSD and Black Young Adults

What is Complex-PTSD?

Complex PTSD (C-PTSD) is a form of post-traumatic stress disorder, stemming from prolonged exposure to trauma, also known as complex trauma. C-PTSD is different from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), because it is not caused by a singular traumatic event, but rather chronic or prolonged traumatic event(s). These events can be wide-ranging and produce long-term impact on mental health. According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), complex trauma usually occurs in the context of a child’s relationship with a caregiver (NCTSN 2020). The mental and physical impact of complex trauma is especially prominent in the Black community due to systematic and structural factors. Complex trauma can include Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). ACEs refers to childhood adversities and traumatic events, such as: sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, neglect, domestic violence, an impaired caregiver (substance use, parental mental illness), divorce, or separation from family member (incarceration, death) etc. (NCTSN 2020). Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are a form of complex trauma in childhood or adolescence. This trauma can occur in childhood or adulthood and manifest as C-PTSD into adulthood.

“Black Children are among the most likely members of our society to be exposed to trauma and are among the least likely to receive the services that could prevent the development of trauma-related emotional difficulties.” (NCTSN, 2020).

Complex-PTSD is a highly pervasive stress disorder, and it can affect our communities' most vulnerable populations. The NCTSN cites that Black children are often exposed to trauma, through systematic, institutional, and structural issues, and for these same reasons are less likely to receive services to combat the trauma-related symptoms.

How Trauma Manifests as Complex PTSD and How to Practice Self-Care

Complex trauma, whether in childhood or adulthood, can have differential impact based on the event(s). How someone internalizes these traumatic events or adverse conditions leads to certain mental health outcomes, such as C-PTSD, with symptoms likely arising from adolescence to young adulthood. Living with trauma can leave the body in a state of high-alert or hyper-sensitivity, increasing stress levels, which can have detrimental effects on physical and mental health. Symptoms of C-PTSD can include:

- symptoms of PTSD (night terrors, heightened awareness)

- poor emotional regulation,

- negative self-perception,

- dissociation,

- distorted perception of abuser, and

- difficulty maintaining relationships.

Self-care looks different for everyone, but to cope with symptoms of C-PTSD, focus on therapy and employ the following techniques:

- distress regulation,

- mindfulness meditation,

- introspective listening,

- and care seeking.

The readings and toolkit below serve to offer more information but are not a substitute for therapy or medical advice.

Suggested Readings:

· Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving by Pete Walker

· The Complex PTSD Workbook by Arielle Schwartz, PhD

Mind & Body: The Complex-PTSD Toolkit for Black Young Adults, Brianna Halliburton | LINK

Both texts referenced above are written by White scholars, but this toolkit is specifically for Black young adults. The aim is for it to be culturally competent and understanding of the unique experiences that Black people have throughout their life course. This toolkit pulls on relevant literature and research focused on C-PTSD in the Black community. The toolkit includes discussion and introductions to: distress regulation, journaling prompts, self-reflection, coping strategies, introspective listening, and other positive behaviors to mitigate the impact of C-PTSD symptoms. This toolkit was created as part of the Morehouse School of Medicine Young Adult Mental Community Health Worker Program, and mental health resources included service the Atlanta, GA area.


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