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The Truth Behind Generational Trauma

Author: Hanah Gomberg

Editors: Galiba Anjum and Cynthia Zhang

Artist: Kimberly Arinton

We inherit many things from our ancestors, however generational trauma is often a neglected hereditary trait. The first mentions of generational trauma can be traced back to 1966, when Canadian psychiatrist Vivian M. Rakoff, MD recognized high distress in the children of Holocaust survivors. In accordance, Rakoff’s 1988 study published in The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry showed that grandchildren of Holocaust survivors were overrepresented by 300% in psychiatry care referrals. Based on contemporary knowledge, prolonged stress of any nature that results in clinically diagnosed anxiety, PTSD, and depression can be passed down to descendants.

But one question remains: who is susceptible to generational trauma? Dr DeSilva, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, states that there are specific groups that are particularly vulnerable to generational trauma. These include groups of people who have been “systematically exploited, enduring repeated and continual abuse, racism, and poverty.” Experiences such as enduring sexual abuse and domestic violence, or living through wars and severe natural disasters are traumatic enough to cause genetic changes that are passed onto future generations.

People who suffer from generational trauma generally display symptoms of “hypervigilance, a sense of a shortened future, mistrust, aloofness, high anxiety, [and] depression,” according to Dr DeSilva. Scientists have also discovered that generational trauma can affect immune systems to be either too active or inactive, leading to serious health problems such as autoimmune diseases. Currently, generational trauma is a developing field, but continuous findings have underlined the importance of proper psychological assistance to victims of trauma.



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