Psychiatrist says slavery can cause generational trauma

1619 Historical Marker
Posted at 4:00 PM, Jun 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-22 12:18:21-04

HAMPTON, Va. – Slavery in the United States began in Hampton Roads at Fort Monroe, once known as Point Comfort, where the first enslaved Africans arrived in 1619.

Psychiatrists say the horrors slaves endured in America – severe physical and mental abuse – has a psychological impact on their descendants 401 years later.

“Fearfulness, I think, is what's passed on, in addition to the trauma,” said nationally renowned psychiatrist Dr. Dion Metzger. “That fear gets instilled into children because parents are trying to protect their children.”

A study in Brain Sciences suggests trauma can be passed down through generations. Their research found “an accumulating amount of evidence of an enduring effect of trauma exposure to be passed to offspring transgenerationally via the epigenetic inheritance mechanism of DNA methylation alterations and has the capacity to change the expression of genes and the metabolome.”

Dr. Metzger said it is possible that black people are experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder from what their ancestors endured.

“Just because we didn't experience it, us learning about the history or even from family stories, it's the same thing,” she said.

Metzger said the outcry in peaceful protests across the country can be therapeutic.

Related: Children at protests: Educational or harmful? Local child psychiatrist weighs in

“It's not going to be a quick fix, but us telling our stories is one big part of [healing],” said Dr. Metzger, who also encouraged therapy.

“A lot of people think in order for you to suffer from PTSD, you have to be a victim,” said Dr. Metzger. “You can still have the same traumatic impact just from watching the video [of George Floyd’s death] and sometimes even greater if you identify with the person. So if you identify with the race of the person, you identify with their gender, you're more likely to have a trauma traumatic impact. So I always remind people that even if you were not there, but you’re watching that video, we're still counting that as a trauma. You watched a person die on camera, so we have to realize that that's traumatic.”

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