How Community Trauma and Intersectionality Influence Mental Health

by Roberto Katz

History teaches us about our origins. It helps us understand that we come from somewhere; we have a history. Our communities of origin provide a roadmap to understanding who we are and can also reveal information to better understand how community trauma and intersectionality influences mental health.

Historical Trauma Can Shape Future Generations

We first learn dysfunctional behaviors at home where they pass from one generation to the next. Most of these behaviors stem from traumatic experiences that happened to our ancestors in response to events that took place in their communities of origin. In fact, this form of transgenerational trauma is called Historical Trauma.

Historical Trauma refers to the cumulative emotional wound that an individual or a community as a whole endures in response to a traumatic event. There are multiple examples of communities that endured events such as natural disasters, war, slavery, terrorism, persecution, discrimination, or genocide.

In response to these types of events, a whole generation can develop a trauma. Later, that affected generation becomes responsible for raising the following generation. Hence, many of us might be affected by Historical Trauma even if we did not experience the event ourselves.

Intersectional Identities Suffer More

Those with intersectional identities have an added layer of complexity in regards to trauma. Intersectionality refers to the phenomenon of overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination. A person who is simultaneously a member of the LGBTQ+ community and a member of an ethnic minority might have a significant accumulation of historical trauma to address.

Intersectional identities can encompass race, culture, gender, class, sexual orientation, religion, physical disability, mental disability, mental illness, and migratory status.

The Social Cost of Community Trauma and Intersectionality

Today, it is important to reflect on community trauma because of the social cost that it represents. In reality, abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction all stem from trauma. This type of untreated trauma can lead to outcomes such as an inability to build healthy relationships, poor stress management, substance abuse, poverty, and homelessness.

Poor support at home leads to a lower ability to be resilient. For people with intersectional identities, lack of access to community resources is due to multiple layers of discrimination. For these reasons, it’s helpful for us to understand our origins and the traumas that our community has experienced. This awareness can also help us to better understand our mental health and become agents of change in our communities.