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WILLIAMS: Issues of Health (Part 3)

By E. Faye Williams

Photo by Daniel Jacques on

I am blessed to have friends in every walk of life. With few exceptions, when I speak with friends who are combat veterans and ask about their emotions in a combat zone, they speak of a heightened sense of awareness and almost paranoid preparedness for averting threat or danger, 24/7/365.

Many service members can survive a combat tour without lingering effect, but the constant intensity of emotions or traumatic exposure to danger and/or injury has caused many to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I do not minimize the impact of PTSD, but I have and still wonder why so many are unwilling to compare and contrast the stress and trauma of a combat tour with a lifetime of stress and trauma in an underserved and over-policed/over-regulated community. Although I am not a mental health professional, I see the reality of PTSD in both experiences, with a greater likelihood of manifestation in the latter.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and it is appropriate to discuss such issues.

In the past, I have referenced Maslow’s Theory of Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow asserts that self-actualization — higher order thinking/reasoning — cannot occur until the most basic survival needs are met, but few talk about what happens whether or not, or while survival needs are being sought. I submit that the lack of any life-sustaining/improving commodity is genuine cause for post-traumatic stress — what I equate to internal violence.


Absent depth and detail, I would like for you to imagine the constant internal conflict and mental upheaval trying to rear children or living in/under the described circumstances:

· Living in an unending cycle of insufficient income. “Juggling” money to pay essential bills, often losing a utility, or missing or watching your children miss meals. Common to my own DC Metro area are professionals working two jobs to bridge the gap of economic insufficiency between full-time incomes and poverty. 

· Living with the knowledge that an unexpected toothache, illness or injury offers a real threat to the life and welfare of the affected individual AND family financial security.

· Having to give your children “The Talk” indicates a monumental fear for their survival into adulthood. Wondering and fearing whether “you” will be the next parent informed that your child has met an untimely death at the hands of street violence — “legal” or otherwise.

· Substandard housing that endangers the life, limb, health, property, safety and/or welfare of the occupants. Whether in a state of near-dilapidation, disrepair, with insect or vermin infestation, these structures, however familiar to the residents, impose undue stress.


· Environmental racism of neighborhoods populated primarily by people of color and members of low socioeconomic backgrounds — burdened with disproportionate numbers of hazards including toxic waste facilitates, garbage dumps, and other sources of environmental pollution. The absence or lack of drinkable water in Flint, Mich., and Jackson, Miss., as well as, environmentally volatile locations like New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward, which after 18 years still suffers the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, are clear examples of environmental racism and a constant threat to the health and well-being of communities of color.

These issues only scratch the surface of the unending challenges facing those least likely to possess the resources to overcome them. For many, these daily challenges are intertwined into a mesh of priorities that only make room for survival. For too many, thoughts of addressing social issues like defending voting rights, reforming the criminal justice system, expanding access to affordable health care, closing the racial wealth gap, advancing affordable housing, and a myriad of other problems of social injustice become secondary.

As with our history in this nation, seeking good health seems insufficient. We must fight vigorously to overcome the ravages of poor health.

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