Poverty is an overwhelming risk factor for poor mental health. Healthy communities often focus on the connection between physical health and place. Far fewer have connected place to mental, emotional and behavioral well-being. Local efforts from Oakland to Baltimore illustrate the community-wide health equity benefits of cross-sector partnerships – such as trauma-informed systems, reduction of community-level stresses and strategies to address the opioid epidemic.
Laura Choi, Research Manager, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
George Kleb, Executive Director, Housing & Community Development, Bon Secours Baltimore Health System, Baltimore, MD
Sheila Savannah, Managing Director, Prevention Institute, Houston, TX
Dr. Larissa Estes, Manager, Community Partnerships, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, Dept Comm Health and Engagement, Oakland, CA
By Marsha Jean-Baptiste
Graphs that depict communities of poor health show that these are almost identical to the financially poorest communities, according to a session at the 2019 Just Economy Conference. Make no mistake, it is not that people of poor health migrate to these areas, but rather these areas are causing the individuals to experience poor health. As Sana Chehimi from the Prevention Institute said, “Trauma manifests at the community level. It is not just the aggregate of individuals in a neighborhood who have experienced trauma.”
Trauma in a community is often neglected. It is defined as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience and in neighborhoods, it could be as simple as an abandoned building and graffiti under a bridge. Any effort to promote economic and community development without assessing and addressing the trauma in that community will inevitably fail. Dr. Larissa Estes provided data expressing that more than 53 percent of the children she serves at the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital have experienced four or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), stressful or traumatic events. Her organization is partnering with companies such as Lyft to provide safe rides to receive health services.
George Kleb from the Bon Secours Baltimore Health System provided graphs showing that over 26 percent of the population treated in Baltimore City experienced three or more poor mental health days. This percentage is higher than the state of Maryland average of 23.2 percent. Ninety-five percent of patients who visited the emergency room had a primary or secondary diagnosis of mental health or substance use disorder. The data revealed that Bon Secours’ number one priority is treating trauma.
Bon Secours Baltimore Health System has expanded its work to the community they serve by providing family and senior housing facilities, working with community partners and other various economic development programs.
The Prevention Institute is working to assess community trauma through the Making Connections initiative, which offers boys and men a safe space to build healthy social relationships.
The ultimate goal for all communities is well-being. This is achieved by instilling a sense of belonging, control of destiny, dignity, hope, safety and trust in all community members. Healing trauma is a prerequisite to community well-being and organizations must begin there in order to move forward in any type of positive development for a community.