PTSD in the Inner City Needs a Name That Respects Its Victims

NBC 12 Screenshot
NBC 12 Screenshot

Editor’s note: The Root has not been able to independently confirm that any researchers coined the term “hood disease.” The CBS station in San Francisco that originally reported this story has removed references to “hood disease” from its online report. It has been widely reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others that a trauma considered post-traumatic stress disorder occurs in residents of violence-prone neighborhoods, but this new terminology has not been verified.


Tiara Saunders would rather be homeless than go back to her apartment in the war-torn area of the Whitcomb Court housing projects in Richmond, Va.

Last week I wrote a news summary about the Virginia mother too afraid to return home after her 5-year-old son was shot during a Mother's Day cookout. Through tears, she told a news station that she had been staying with family since the shooting, going back home only once to retrieve what she and her children needed to survive. Housing authorities had denied her request to move to another location.


Saunders is trying to save her son Myronne.  She is fighting for a regular life for her son that doesn't include the sensibilities that come with the hood way of solving problems. What she wants for her boy isn't different from what any other mother wants, but her neighborhood is infected.

It was first reported by CBS in San Francisco that researchers had defined “hood disease” as a more complex form of post-traumatic stress disorder. Turns out that report may not be true. There may have been no such label. But what is true is that children from urban neighborhoods live in continual violence and therefore suffer from all of the symptoms that have been found in veterans once they return home from war. The big difference here is that the trauma is on a continuous loop because the violence is happening outside the front door.

Even people who live with the trauma every day may underestimate its effect.

No matter what it’s called, even jokingly, let’s not lose sight of this important point: Kids from the inner city are killing kids in the inner city at staggering rates, and those around the violence are suffering as much as, if not more than, those who have been directly affected.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 30 percent of U.S. inner-city youths are affected by this form of PTSD, which makes it difficult for them to learn. Those who exhibit the disorder often live in virtual war zones, the CDC report says.

A reader of The Root noted in the comments section of our site that this form of PTSD should have been labelled CTSD, or “continuous traumatic stress disorder,” and I agree.


To understand CTSD, it works like this: It begins with an infected set of economics. Low-income jobs lead to low-income-areas. Poor housing usually means poor education. If left untreated, the infection takes root and attacks the sensibilities, altering perceptions. Guns, drugs and turf battles become larger-scale symptoms, as does living in a constant state of fear. Apologies are no longer effective in treatment. Once airborne and full-blown, CTSD spreads through neighborhoods, creating a sense of dread that is comparable only to living in a war zone.

I don't write this from the fringes of the community. I grew up in the hood, and I, too, suffered from CTSD. I saw my first dead body at 15. I was taking out the trash. Crackheads had taken up residence in the hallways of my building, often killing the lights so that they could smoke uninterrupted. One man had overdosed. His eyes were still open. I still struggle with this image because it was horrifying. At school the next day I told friends what I had seen, and it turned out I was the last of my group to witness death.   


In Chicago, which has been nicknamed Chiraq—another poorly named area of blackness that glorifies the violence and not the shocking number of casualties—more kids were killed between 2003 and 2011 than Americans were lost in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, and almost as many as died in the war in Iraq. If the Chicagoans had actually declared war, those who survived could receive funding and treatment. But the violence has been deemed a part of hood living.

What is raging in urban America is a low-income war being waged in low-income areas. There are no high stakes to be gained here, just struggling people fighting for survival among more struggling people. At 5 years of age, Myronne has already been wounded, both physically and emotionally. He has been scarred. What nightmares will haunt him when he sleeps? How is a 5-year-old supposed to process this? His grandmother Pamela Miller says she has already noticed a change in his outgoing behavior.


"He's always looking around, and if someone knocks at the door, he's looking at it. He definitely don't want to go back over to Whitcomb Court," she said.

When the news station visited the old apartment that was the scene of Myronne's shooting, the child's blood still stained the front porch. Saunders told the news station that she just wants a place where children "can play outside peacefully."


Sadly, that place isn't named the hood.

Stephen A. Crockett Jr. is associate editor of news at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.

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