The Epigenetics of Poverty and the Brain with Dr. Louann Brizendine

Posted by on Jul 8, 2015 in Epigenetics, PTSD, vmPFC | Comments Off on The Epigenetics of Poverty and the Brain with Dr. Louann Brizendine

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PTSD and the Poverty Centers of the Brain

Posted by on Jan 7, 2014 in Poverty, PTSD | Comments Off on PTSD and the Poverty Centers of the Brain

PTSD and the Poverty Centers of the Brain

PTSD and the Poverty Centers of the Brain

By: Philippe SHOCK Matthews

Is it safe to say that those born into the life of poverty suffer the same symptoms as those who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? After all, poverty is a state of being while PTSD is a mental health condition. However, in the April 2008 issue of Medical Care, an article mentioned that PTSD was common among poor, urban residents.

Isn’t PTSD more associated with those who have seen military combat or any form of assault? Why is there a connection made between a person’s state in life with the condition?

Before all these questions can be answered, it’s best to look closely at both poverty and PTSD.

Basic definitions


Opening up a dictionary or looking up for the definition of poverty online will give you more or less the same definition. It is defined as the “state or condition in which a person or community lacks the financial resources and essentials to enjoy a minimum standard of life and well-being that’s considered acceptable in society.”

Poverty status in the US are calculated by the US Bureau of Census. Based on Statistical Policy Directive 14 of the Office of Management and Budget, the US Census Bureau has a set of money income thresholds that varies depending on family size and composition to determine poverty. If the total income of the entire family is less than the threshold, then that family as well as every individual in it is considered to be living in poverty.


There are lots of sources to refer to for PTSD definition, and one of them is the Mayo Clinic which defines it as a “mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event.” To add another PTSD definition, the National Institute of Mental Health states that PTSD “develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm.” Just to add one more PTSD definition, WebMD says that it was once called “shell shock or battle fatigue syndrome” and is further described as a “serious condition that can develop after a person has experienced or witnessed a traumatic or terrifying event in which serious physical harm occurred or was threatened.”

As you can see, every one of the definitions of PTSD point to a “terrifying event” in a person’s life. To link this to poverty, it’s time to look at some PTSD symptoms as well as the poverty situation.

PTSD symptoms and the poverty situation

The symptoms of PTSD

Most of the time, PTSD symptoms begin within three months. However, there are cases when the symptoms appeared years after the incident happened. The signs of PTSD are often grouped into the following:


This is when people with PTSD continually relive what they went through in their thoughts and memories. They constantly recall the trauma through flashbacks, hallucinations, and nightmares. Things such as the anniversary date of the event can be a trigger for them to relive the ordeal they went through.


This is when a person avoids people, places, thoughts, and situations that remind them of a traumatic event. This leads them to feel detached and isolated from family and friends. Furthermore, they lose interest in things that used to give them joy.

Increased arousal

This is when a person experiences excessive emotions. These include having problems relating to others, finding it difficult to fall or stay asleep, having a hard time concentrating, being very easily startled, and showing outbursts of anger. Not only that, signs of PTSD in this category also includes physical symptoms such as increased blood pressure, diarrhea, nausea, muscle tension, and elevated heart rate.

Who usually gets PTSD?

It’s important to note that everyone has a different way of reacting to traumatic events. That being said, it’s possible for someone involved in a tragic situation not to develop PTSD. Furthermore, the help or support that a person who experienced or witnessed a trauma gets from family and friends greatly influences the development or non-development of the condition.

That being said, PTSD was first brought to the attention of the medical community by veterans of war, which is why the condition was originally called “shell shock” and “battle fatigue syndrome.” Due to the nature of their work, is not a wonder why PTSD in soldiers is common. They bear witness to hundreds, even thousands of killings and become participants in taking lives, especially in war. Memories of events like these can haunt a person even after everything is done

Now, even if PTSD in soldiers is quite common, anyone who has experienced a traumatic event in their life are at risk of developing PTSD. The following are prone to develop PTSD:

  • people who have been abused as children
  • people who have been repeatedly exposed to situations that threaten their life
  • people who have been victims of physical and sexual assault

As you can see, PTSD in children is also an issue. The development of the condition can be caused by the following:

  • being a victim of sexual or physical abuse
  • being witness to violent crimes in the area where they live
  • experiencing disasters such as car crashes, fires, floods, and school shootings

Symptoms of PTSD in children include the following:

  • fear of being separated from a parent
  • loss of skills that have been previously acquired (e.g. toilet training)
  • sleep problems and nightmares
  • development of new phobias or anxieties that are unrelated to the traumatic event suffered
  • irritability and aggression
  • play that involves themes of the trauma they experienced
  • aches and pains with no determined cause
  • acting out the traumatic event through drawings, stories and play

Now, studies have shown that 15-43% of girls and 14-43% of boys experience at least one trauma in their lives. Of these children, 3-15% of girls and 1-6% of boys develop PTSD.

It’s also important to remember that the above-mentioned can also be applicable to teenagers and adults. Teens who may have been witness to the suicide of a close friend or an adult who saw firsthand the death of a loved one are all prone to develop PTSD.

How the brain processes PTSD

It’s a fact that the brain is responsible for us to function normally. Now, when trauma is inserted into the equation, the normal flow of processing is interrupted. The brain goes into defensive mode, or in other words, it’s fighting to survive. What happens is it tries to survive at that moment, but PTSD puts the brain in survival mode for longer than expected, and this leads to all sorts of trouble associated with PTSD.

This just shows that it’s very important to address symptoms of PTSD as soon as possible before it escalates and becomes a major disaster.

After all this has been examined, how is PTSD linked to poverty?

First, it helps to look at the common causes of poverty, as well as its effects.

Causes of poverty

Poverty can be caused by a lot of reasons, some of them solvable while others will take a whole lot of time before they can climb out of their situation. That being said, here are some of the most common causes of poverty:

  • overpopulation
  • inadequate education
  • insufficient employment opportunities
  • high standard and cost of living
  • environmental degradation
  • disasters
  • inequality

Effects of poverty

  • homelessness
  • health issues
  • crime and violence

The link between poverty and PTSD

Based on the effects of poverty alone, you can see why those who are born into poverty are at high risk of developing PTSD. Some of those living in poor conditions might see their fair share of violence, whether it be to a family member or a close friend.

Given that developing health issues is one of the effects of poverty, it’s no wonder that people living in this kind of situation can be a witness to death in the family. Now, witnessing someone die can be categorized as a traumatic event in one’s life and if not addressed whether by other family members or a support network of neighbors or friends can spiral out of control.

When one lives in poverty, financial instability will always be an issue. Having little money to pay for all the expenses and other financial responsibilities can be emotionally taxing. Couple that with the unavailability of good jobs or the difficulty of keeping a job for that matter then what you have here is a recipe for a breakdown.

People living in poverty are also prone to being threatened with a weapon or being involved in a life-threatening accident. Even worse, they are also victims of physical and sexual assault.

What’s the difference between a war veteran suffering and those born into poverty when it comes to PTSD?

Someone who has lived in poverty all their life rarely have the opportunity to enjoy what normal life is. Usually, children born into poverty are forced to work in order to survive. Although some may go to school and get an education, skipping school is an issue as well because of illness, financial issues, or any other family-related matter. You can call it being born into a PTSD-prone world.

A war veteran, on the other hand and for the most part, has experienced what it’s like to live a normal life. They enjoyed heading to the movies on weekends, visiting different states on vacation, partying with friends and the like. While experiencing a traumatic event prior to being shipped off to war is quite possible, nothing probably prepares them for the devastation that comes with military service.

With those who are born into poverty, death and destruction surrounds them, and it’s equally taxing.

Is there a solution?


Psychotherapy is one of the best solutions for those who have developed PTSD. What happens is that the suffering party gets to talk to a mental health professional so they can get the treatment they need. A psychotherapy session usually lasts 6 to 12 weeks, but depending on the situation, can take longer than that. Sessions can be one-on-one or done in a group.

Help of family and friends

Family and friends can lend an ear to someone who is experiencing PTSD. They can start by letting the person know that they are willing to hear out their feelings. However, it’s important that they don’t push too much because it wouldn’t help to do so.

Another thing that can be tried is getting help from organizations like Helping Ourselves Win (HOW) Movement. Here, we empower, educate and train young adults to realize their full potential by breaking through psychological, emotional, economic and environmental barriers.

The final note

PTSD is a tough thing to go through, but through early intervention and added help, it’s a condition that can be overcome.


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Dr. Stanley H. Block on Bridging and Awareness

Posted by on Nov 26, 2013 in Bridging and Awareness, PTSD | Comments Off on Dr. Stanley H. Block on Bridging and Awareness

Dr. Stanley H. Block

Dr. Stanley H. Block

Listen to this exclusive interview with Dr. Stanley H. Block on Bridging and Awareness from the Philippe Matthews Show.

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Is There a Connection between Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Bullying?

Posted by on Nov 19, 2013 in PTSD | Comments Off on Is There a Connection between Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Bullying?

By: Dr. Cherrye S. Vasquez

Dr. Cherrye S. Vasquez

Dr. Cherrye S. Vasquez

All any child want in life is love, happiness and security. Living our lives without harsh intrusions and horrific sufferings is something most people would cherish as a great life – “Life can’t be a bowl of cherries” for ALL of us, right? We know the answer to my question all too well. The answer is “Right.”

But, suppose a child is on the outside looking in traumatized by the release of all the chaos and drama moving about them – They are a young, frightened and astonished into sheer awe and disbelief – OR, is it you – now all grown up who perhaps once lived within this chaos, but somehow found your way – Yes, you jumped out of a vicious life cycle (whatever one deems as such).

Although I’m speaking on the premise that not ALL of us experience the same issues in life, and I certainly can’t claim that each and every one of us will ever go through turbulence, however, there are those among us who have had, and who may still experience chaotic lives. There are variables in life and perhaps risk factors that cause a few among us to become probable to events that some may not ever experience. Yes, I want to preempt this message clearly prior to moving on.

We know however, traumatic experiences may be especially true for our children who are born into generational poverty. You may know people among us who, due to no fault of their on, experience life’s astonishing heartaches which sets them off into feelings of unawares they never thought possible.

Later in life, some might find themselves asking, what is this thing — this monster feeling that entrapped my very mind, soul, and body, that somehow lured me into thinking and perhaps doing the unimaginable. What things? Well, all sorts of crazes that may include, but aren’t limited to, acts of bullying, rape, molestation, hate, assault, physical abuse, kidnapping, war and attacks on others, and/or unruly, drastically inappropriate, deliberate, careless behaviors. Is this list disturbing to you? I meant for it to be because we must talk about on-the-edge issues and stop passing the buck, or putting band aids on matters of importance.

So what is this author speaking of? I’m speaking of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and its association with acts of violence, menacing and/or acts of bullying behaviors. Could there be a connection between PTSD and Bullying? Who knows for sure? Since this topic is very new in terms of its connection to bullying, I’d go on to say this subject is on my list of topics categorized as marginal, but it is worth investigating. When we inspect and consider issues that plague us, we become stewards of change, or change agents for a better tomorrow.

Now, am I saying that all people who experience PTSD disorder react in volatile ways described above? No, I’m certainly not suggesting this, but determining a connection and trigger of bullying and/or inappropriate damaging behaviors will help us offer hope. So, here goes:

What we know is this: Children aren’t born into this world destined to partake in acts of violence. There has to be variables or antecedents in one’s life that activates, and/or elicits such acts.

Let’s see if we can determine answers to the following questions? What was the trigger? What was the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back? What tipped this person (boy or girl) over the edge? What set them off? (So to speak.)

Of course, we all become stressed from time to time (it’s just life), but the quantum leap act that I’m speaking of here has one so traumatized that a person just loses all sense of direction to the point of giving up on self and life. These are the upsets that are so overwhelming to a person that they feel life isn’t worth living. Here, I’m speaking of a person that feels empty inside. They feel exposed to the world, scared, and they lose all sense of safety, belief, faith and hope.

Although PTSD can happen to anyone for a number of reasons (a normal life, but a sudden car accident in which a close loved one dies); again I want to remind you that my focus within this particular writing is to dialogue and discourse about the possibility and connection between PTSD and bullying. What is the effect on a person who turns toward acts of violence and bullying behaviors? What does this action do for them? Is it somehow a sense of relief, or “I got back at someone (regardless if the victim was the perpetrator, or not) for making my life such a mess.

When our children are born into or come into turbulent dysfunctional homes where they witness and/or are victims of an array of hurtful and harmful doings, they may become numb to healthy feelings. Children have the same needs that adults have for feeling safe. When they feel threatened and scared out of their wits, and thrown into a world-wind of shattered, fearful conflicts and battles, they may react haphazardly to these abnormal behaviors to a point of remaining in psychological disbelief, fright and distress.

O’er, not all children who experience PTSD experience major incidences as described below, but one can only imagine the plight of abnormal behaviors that may befall when these sorts of issues arise.


Think for just a moment on these Scenarios.


Scenario I

Suzy’s mom and dad just recently divorced. Although Suzy longed for her parents to remain together so they could continue dwelling as a family, her parents grew apart. Suzy’s parents always ensured her life was as normal as possible. Although they were divorcing each other, they weren’t divorcing Suzy. Suzy’s parents had a friendly divorce while respecting each other’s wishes for Suzy.

Months later, Suzy’s mom is dating again and decided to move her new boyfriend into their home. One morning when Suzy’s Mom left for work, she left Suzy home with her new boyfriend, and the unimaginable happened. Her Mom’s boyfriend beat, choked, and severely raped Suzy.

Now, Suzy has become very depressed, angry and feels ashamed of her body. She has outbursts and cries a lot at school. When children get too close to Suzy she becomes irritable. None of the other children seem to know what is going on with Suzy. The teacher doesn’t know how to help her.

Scenario II

Marks Dad is an alcoholic who becomes a drunken stupor on a daily basis. To top that off, he is very violent and becomes abusive. Marks Dad beats him, his Mom, and siblings all the time. Mark loves his Mom and siblings. He loves his Dad too, but hates his actions so badly he now despises him. Whenever Mark tried to intervene and help his Mom, his Dad turned on him giving him a beating for hours.

One day when Mark’s Dad was in a drunken rage, he took out his hunting rifle and shot his Mom in the head as she begged for her life. Mark witnessed this event. Mark’s Dad went to prison for 5 years. Mark and his siblings had to go and live with his grandparents. What a life disruption!

When Mark’s Dad was released from prison, he tried to come for his children. Mark doesn’t want to have anything to do with his Dad. Mark feels betrayed by his dad. For years Marked walked around numb with mixed emotions. How can his Dad say that he loves him and his siblings when he took their Mom away from them?

Important Points

We must also keep in mind that PTSD can occur when something as simple as a child’s fear of being separated from his/her parents. Again, we must ask ourselves an important question – “Why?” Did the parents give the child a reason to sense this fear? Was the child left alone often, or left with family members or friends who weren’t kind to the child in some way?


Could it be possible that PTSD is related to other health related concerns? This is yet another question worth our consideration.


These are just a couple examples and points of how sudden upsets may drive and instigate children into abnormal behaviors they may not have chosen to partake in when life was normal.

Children who become astonished at what they’ve experienced may have a very difficult time dealing with and managing their emotions. Wouldn’t you? Instead of dealing with their sudden disrupts normally, they may experience increased unease, and disturbing provocation. This may be the time when educators notice unrest and inappropriate bullying behaviors towards others. The child is now irritable, shame, harboring a sense of blame, guilt, hate and perhaps even jealousy of classmates who appear to have sound normal lives (a memory some once had). You’ve heard the old cliché, “Misery loves company.”

When children retort to unwarranted behaviors as a result of trauma, we must be willing and ready to aide and assist them with effective coping strategies. We may be able to help get therapy for children and their families. We must remember, however, our support must be ongoing, steadfast and consistent. Children that experience traumatic life upsets to the point of PTSD may need to talk. We must have listening ears that do not become weary of hearing their stories, and we must make undivided time for them.

Regardless of the spark that ignited or generated negative behaviors, the connection of PTSD and bullying is a topic that we must not bury in the back of our minds. Educators and health professionals alike must work tirelessly together for solutions unlocking the unknown and pledging to labor and toil closely with children and their families for hope and transformation.

Parents would be wise to consider, rethink and forecast important decisions which could adversely and negatively affect children and their overall safety. Children depend on us for safety. We are their advocates. Of course when things happen beyond our control such as death, car accidents and the like, we have to help our children cope with every day issues just as any other person, or child would have to under normal circumstances.


About the Author

Author Cherrye S. Vasquez is a public school administrator and an adjunct professor. She is a Doctor of Philosophy in Curriculum & Instruction; a Master of Education in Special Education; and a Bachelor of Arts in Speech Pathology/Audiology. Vasquez specializes in Multi-cultural education and holds certifications in Early Childhood Handicapped, Mid-Management and Educational Diagnostician. She lives in Houston with her husband, Roy and her daughter, Kelly.

Vasquez’ platform centers on diversity and bullying issues. She feels strongly that children should love and have pride of who they are, and believe in themselves and their identity. Empowerment is essential to healthy wholesome development.

Author’s Contact Information

  • Website
  • 713-628-2908
  • Skype: BooksThatSow


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