Healing from trauma
“Healing” is a term doctors use often to describe a patient’s progress, but healing goes beyond the flesh.
Dr. Audrey Tanksley delivered a keynote speech about the intersection of violence and health at a Feb. 20 forum held at SIU School of Medicine in Springfield. Tanksley is the medical director of Heartland Alliance, an international organization that advocates for improved living conditions for the impoverished. She noted that violence can take on many different forms, including gun violence and domestic violence. Violence almost always leads to trauma and that trauma needs to be healed.
Ticara Onyewuenyi, an SIU School of Medicine student who coordinated the event through the Student National Medical Association, said she and other students attended an event where Tanksley had delivered a similar speech and wanted to share her unique experience with Springfield.
“A large part of our inspiration came from Dr. Tamara O’Neal, who was unfortunately murdered by gun violence,” Onyewuenyi said.
O’Neal was an SIU School of Medicine alumni who was shot and killed in November 2018 in the parking lot of Mercy Hospital in Chicago, where she worked as an ER doctor, by Juan Lopez, the man O’Neal had broken off her engagement to just a few months before her death.
Lopez killed an officer and another worker at Mercy Hospital before dying during a shootout with police.
While trauma impacts people regardless of socioeconomic condition, those who are in poverty are 70 times more likely to experience violent crime.
Tanksley said there are many different “gaps” that can occur during the course of a person’s life that could lead to an early death. This occurs when a person is developing and is inundated by a constant flow of stress that eventually changes the way a person thinks.
“Just think about people who are constantly being stressed, even children in utero,” Tanksley said. “They can’t stop it, and it doesn’t turn off.”
Trauma induced by violence has two different effects: those who witness violence are angrier, while those who are the victims of violence tend to be more depressed.
To emphasize her point about crime, violence and poverty, Tanksley referred to an FBI study that found a correlation between exposure to above-average levels of lead and crime.
“This particular theory says the higher the level of lead, the higher the level of the crime, because we know what lead does to cognitive development. And if you think about it, where are typically the higher levels of lead?” Tanksley asked the audience. “Poor communities, because we have old buildings with old paint.”
Tanksley compared poverty and health care in Chicago to Sangamon County. Although the population sizes vastly differ, the percentage of people living in poverty and lacking health care access are comparable.
Furthermore, mortality rates associated with mental and substance abuse disorders have increased almost threefold over the past 34 years.
Once Tanksley finished her presentation, she joined Erica Smith, director of shelter and support services at Helping Hands, Sgt. Gerry Castles of the Springfield Police Department and Greg Damarin, police chief and director of public safety at SIU School of Medicine, where all panelists took questions from the audience.
Castles spoke about how his work at SPD as a part of the crisis intervention team has placed him in situations where he has needed to remain calm when dealing with those who may be experiencing a crisis or suffering from mental health conditions or substance abuse.
He and Tanksley let those attending the presentation know that when dealing with other’s trauma, it’s important to have positive outlets to deal with the stress and take time to heal.
“You have to change the way you think about things if you’re truly going to heal,” Tanksley said.
Lindsey Salvatelli is an editorial intern with Illinois Times as part of the Public Affairs Reporting master’s degree program at University of Illinois Springfield. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.