How Trauma From Hurricane Katrina Affects Black New Orleanians to This Day

The Black experience in America is rooted in trauma.

Blacks folks have been the objects of systemic and state-sanctioned trauma beginning in 1619 and existing well into today. There’s no denying the staggering Black maternal mortality rate, effects of weathering and environmental racism on the Black body, as well as the harmful ways police brutality impacts Black mental health. And susceptibility to stress and vulnerability can be passed on through genetic transmission.

“Pregnant women who are stressed in disasters, are more likely to pass on vulnerability to PTSD in their offsprings. These are studies that have been done on the Holocaust and also during 9/11,” said president/CEO of the Institute for Women and Ethnic Studies (IWES), Dr. Denese Shervington.

Dr. Shervington is based in New Orleans and works in the community to assess post-disaster mental health conditions such as depression, substance abuse, and PTSD. She’s found that much of the psychological trauma residents experienced after Hurricane Katrina is happening again—this time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Black people in Louisiana are dying at disproportionately high rates of COVID-19, despite only making up about a third of the state’s total population. And due to the current public health crisis, social distancing, and need for masks, the traditional celebration of the deceased through second lines has been disrupted.

“It’s a coping mechanism for the grief and the loss that has really acutely hit New Orleans. We don’t have access to that,” said Shervington.

In the video above Dr. Shervington breaks down how conditions can emerge in people who were previously mentally well, why healing has to happen at multiple levels, and more.


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