Last Tuesday's edition of The Wall Street Journal published a frontpage article on the connection between head injuries and various social issues ( "Studies Cite Head Injuries As Factor in Some Social Ills," by Thomas M.Burton, A1, January 29, 2008).
It seems that medical researchers discern a link between a number of social problems and sometimes long-forgotten head trauma. The list of problems that may be connected to earlier head injuries includes mental illnesses, alcoholism, drug abuse, learning disabilities and chronic homelessness.
The U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 5.3 million Americans suffer from long-term disabilities that are related to brain injuries. The connection of such social and personal challenges to brain trauma often go unrecognized. Reserachers discovered high incidence of forgotten or unreported head injuries in working with patients dealing with a whole range of behavioral and social problems.
The source of head traumas include typlical experiences that occur and are forgotten, such as bike and car accidents, sports-related concussions and childhood accidents or abuse.
A research team at the Brain Injury Research Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York conducted assessments of arouind 100 homeless men in New York City. The study found that 82% of the men reported brain injuries in childhood, primarily due to parental abuse. In an expanded study of public education programs designed for students with learning disabilities, researchers discovered that 50% of the children had suffered some sort of head trauma at some point in their lives.
The story reminded me of two conversations I've had with colleagues, one in Seattle and one here in Dallas.
During a trip to Seattle to study effective models of permanent supportive housing (thanks to the support of the Corporation for Supportive Housing), I learned that all of the residents in a 75-unit housing development designed for some of the most fragile and expensive homeless persons in the city had experienced head trauma.
Here in Dallas, Dr. Joel Feiner, the director of psychiatric services at our VA Hospital, told me that 85% of his homeless patients suffer from post traumatic stress disorder as a result of traumatic experiences prior to their entry into military service. Most were abused as children.
Interesting findings and experiences.
The evidence is growing. There are reasons back of the homelessness we observe in our communities. As with just about everything human, kindness and understanding go a long way in leading us toward correct and effective responses to our neighbors who suffer and live in great difficulty through no fault of their own.
[The Wall Street Journal article can be read at: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120156672297223803.html.