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.