Thompson speaks on traumatic stress in St. Louis’ marginalized communities

Faculty; Public Health; Social Work

As a professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, Vetta Sanders Thompson focuses her research specifically on the ways traumatic stress impacts marginalized communities in St. Louis. recent interview with St. Louis on the Air, Thompson discussed the ways traumatic stress is impacting people of color, people living in poverty, and LGBTQ people.

“When we talk about traumatic stress, we’re talking about stressors that push people beyond their normal ability to cope,” Thompson told St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh. “Usually we’ve defined those stressors as things that lead people to feel like their life is at risk, whether or not there’s actual physical endangerment present.”

Inequity, historical trauma, poverty, and other social determinants, increase the likelihood of traumatic stress. And the evidence on the role that stress plays in physical and mental health and wellbeing has been mounting, Thompson said.

Stress has been a topic of much discussion in St. Louis, recently, following an extensive series by the St. Louis Post-DispatchThe Crisis Within: How Toxic Stress and Trauma Endanger Our Children.

“Toxic stress are those stressors where, with their accumulation over time—the duration, the depth—they overwhelm our ability to cope. Poverty is the first one that comes to mind,” she said. “We increasingly recognize the devastating effect it has both on physical health and mental and behavioral health.”

“Children who grow up in environments where there is substantial poverty or long-term poverty—what some call deep poverty, or chronic poverty—are at greater risk over their lifespan of responding adversely to toxic and traumatic stress, just because of the cumulative effects.”

To hear Thompson’s full interview, click here.