Speaking About The Unspoken Existence Of PTSD Among Indigenous People

Anxiety, difficulty with sleep, sudden flashbacks coupled with heightened fear, feeling of being estranged, paranoia, and restlessness are dreading, if not almost fatal, symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. It is very common to hear about this mental health issue among people from the military.

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Facts About PTSD

PTSD is a psychiatric disorder experienced by people who have been exposed to traumatic events, including natural and human-made disasters, accidents, terrorist attacks, war, or any form of violence. In that person’s brain, the traumatic event is registered as a negative experience that gets stuck in the experiential side of the brain and becomes disconnected from the logical side of the brain. Rational reasoning is hijacked, and anything that resembles the original trauma triggers a fight-or-flight response.

“With PTSD, it’s not only that the person is remembering that painful event, the body responds as if it’s happening again,” says transformational psychologist Dr. Debi Silber explains. “So while cognitively they know it’s not, at a subconscious level, they’re re-experiencing it, and as the stress response is ignited, stress hormones are released and the cascade of physical, mental and emotional symptoms emerge.”

That is why, after a frightening exposure, people with PTSD are being haunted by intense and disturbing thoughts that kept bringing back all the fear they felt during that time. It happens even when a lot of years have gone by after that frightful moment. Every once in a while, or even continuously, they would be disturbed by nightmares and as a result; they would feel paranoid even with the slightest noise or touch that could remind them of that traumatic experience.

Hence, it is not surprising that PTSD is usually associated with those in the military since these traumatic incidents are what made up almost 100% of their day, especially during wartime. However, another group of people has been likewise exposed to these highly stressful situations – indigenous people.

Indigenous People And PTSD

In a study involving the indigenous communities in Australia, it has been shown that as the world moved into the modern-day and technology-laden society, it is today, many of the indigenous people were deprived of their cultural practices and knowledge.

The indigenous customary law was set aside and overridden by the more substantial sovereign laws. As a result, there were various incidents of land-grabbing through force, violence against women and children, slavery, war, introduced diseases, and the rejection of spiritual beliefs amongst the indigenous ones. Even in other parts of the world, there is an alarming increase in reported incidents of indigenous imprisonment, death among infants, high suicide rate, and substance abuse.

Because of the high levels of intense trauma exposure and psychological distress among indigenous people, the prevalence of PTSD among indigenous men and women were high at 12.10% and 32.30%, respectively.

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Along with PTSD, they are also experiencing a wide array of other mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, psychosis, and substance abuse. Suicide attempts are at a whopping 34%. On top of that, it is more heartbreaking that almost 60% of these indigenous people diagnosed with PTSD had never had access to any form of mental health care before they were imprisoned.

PTSD Recovery For Indigenous People

Before anything else, it is critical to recognize that more than just a medical concern, treatment for PTSD is also a socio-political issue of modern-day society. While military personnel suffers from the disease because of the inherent nature of their work, indigenous people almost die from PTSD as a result of the inequality and marginalization that is very rampant across the globe to the point that it has been normalized.

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Governments and sovereigns would have to start recognizing the rights and valuing the life of the indigenous people as much as they would give regard to their ordinary citizens. They too deserve a safe place to live, a peaceful way of life, and an opportunity to make them prosper. Mental health care comes afterward.

“Cognitive behavioral approaches such as stress inoculation training (SIT) and prolonged exposure (PE) also are effective in relieving PTSD symptoms,” explains George Everly, PhD, ABPP. “Skills such as relaxation, thought stopping and guided self-dialogue form the core of SIT, whereas PE involves multiple sessions where the patient relives the traumatic experience in a safe environment until it loses its potency.”

Medically speaking, there are various therapies available to help indigenous people overcome their PTSD. For instance, Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE) allows patients to confront the traumatic events that trigger their responses and teaches them breathing exercises that help ease their anxiety. There are also particular types of drugs that regulate brain chemistry related to fear and anxiety.

Constance Scharff, PhD, wrote, “Treatment will help relieve symptoms, offering an outlet for suppressed emotions by processing those emotions and sensations. This release can help the individual gain back a sense of control over their life by helping them learn to cope with the memories and feelings they experienced.”

With all these interventions readily available, indigenous people too can have a chance to look forward to a life with security.



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