What is PTSS? Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome Explained

What is PTSS? Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome Explained

slave syndrome
What is PTSS? Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome Explained

Can racism cause mental health issues? Can it cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), similar to what many veterans of war suffer?

Psychologist and professor Dr. Joy DeGruy has been exploring the theory that racism can result in a similar mental syndrome since 2005. More people are now recognizing the effects racism can have on one’s psyche, especially in light of the racial tension that is present in the U.S. today. 

DeGruy wrote the ground-breaking book, “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing” and says she coined the PTTS phrase. 

“P.T.S.S. is a theory that explains the etiology of many of the adaptive survival behaviors in African-American communities throughout the United States and the Diaspora,” according to DeGruy’s website. “It is a condition that exists as a consequence of multigenerational oppression of Africans and their descendants resulting from centuries of chattel slavery — a form of slavery which was predicated on the belief that African Americans were inherently/genetically inferior to whites.”

PTSS, in short, describes the multigenerational trauma and injustices experienced by African Americans — from slavery to the recent deaths of Black citizens at the hands of police, behavioral health therapist Dr. Monica Hinton wrote in Sharp.

PTSS is similar to PTSD in that people who experience both often avoid certain places, people, or activities and events that may remind them of the trauma or experience. Also in common, they have difficulty concentrating, feel anxious or are easy to anger, appear emotionally numb and have feelings of hopelessness and depression, Dr. Hinton wrote.

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But post-traumatic slave syndrome also differs from post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD results from a single trauma experienced directly or indirectly. PTSS, on the other hand, is from people experiencing racism through the generations as well as individuals facing constant stress from everyday racism.

“When we look at American chattel slavery, we are not talking about a single trauma. Ee’re talking about multiple traumas over lifetimes and over generations,” DeGruy told Ebony in 2015. “Living in Black skin is a whole other level of stress.”

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DeGruy breaks down post-traumatic slave syndrome through something she calls M.A.P.

M is for multigenerational trauma together with continued oppression.

A is for the absence of opportunity to heal or access the benefits available in the society.

P is for Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, according to her website.