LETHBRIDGE – A new study from the University of Lethbridge suggests aboriginal populations routinely subjected to racism may experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, and that repeated racism may play a role in prescription drug abuse.
An assistant professor in the U of L’s faculty of health sciences interviewed 372 aboriginal adults in Edmonton in 2010. Dr. Cheryl Currie’s study found 80 per cent of adults said they had experienced high levels of racism that year at work, in public spaces, or seeking health care. The study found frequent racial discrimination caused extreme stress.
“A lot of people in the literature are saying, ‘yes, experiencing racism is stressful. But it’s not PTSD-level stress’,” Currie said. “I didn’t know if it was or not, but I said, ‘let’s look’.”
Currie’s research suggests individuals may respond to discrimination in ways that extend beyond their psychological control that are consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder. She speculates those affected by routine racism may be using prescription drugs to cope with the symptoms.
“People are looking to escape these symptoms: nightmares, feeling jumpy, feeling on edge…just feeling afraid,” Currie said.
In many municipalities, there are organizations in place to try and eliminate racism. The Canadian Coalition of Municipalities against Racism and Discrimination holds workshops and training sessions across the country in an effort to address the problem.
“This is one of the most important areas in any community.”
“The mental effect it has when you’re oppressing something that has caused you so much harm based on something you can’t control…it can be very damaging to your mental health,” Roy Pogorzelski, inclusion consultant with the City of Lethbridge, said.
Currie says more research is needed to verify her findings, but notes the impact of racism on body, mind and behaviour is a growing field of research.