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Adena Bank Lees, LCSW
Adena Bank Lees, LCSW
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Gender, Race, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

There is hope and healing of PTSD for men of color.

According to the National Center for PTSD, about 6 of every 10 men (60%) and 5 of every 10 women (50%) experience at least one trauma in their lives; yet compared to women, men have a lower instance of developing PTSD (10% of women compared with 4% of men).

There are many possible explanations for this discrepancy, and one widely accepted theory is that men in most cultures are socialized to be fiercely independent and invincible, therefore they are not likely to seek out help when they realize they are struggling emotionally. "Big boys don’t cry…Don’t be a sissy…Man up…" are just some of the messages boys receive as they are growing up, causing them to stuff or deny their feelings.

Race is an additional factor to consider in the diagnosis and treatment of men with PTSD. For example, when the study of Adverse Child Experiences (ACEs) included criteria such as urban violence and discrimination, men of color showed up as having experienced more adversity (i.e., poverty, racism, detention, and incarceration) than other genders or groups. Unfortunately, when we think of PTSD we often do not consider these as traumatic experiences.

Source: maxres/yahoo

Youth ALIVE!, a nationally recognized violence prevention and youth leadership agency, has partnered with Drexel University’s Center for Non-Violence and Social Justice, and the California Endowment to create a series of three action briefs called Healing in Color. These briefs summarize key understandings about young men of color and trauma and what steps can be taken by organizations and institutions to better meet their needs and promote their healing:

Action Brief #1: There is No “Post”: How Trauma and Violence Affect the Lives of Young Males of Color
Action Brief #2: ‘Ain’t nobody gonna come back because you didn’t do nothin’ while I was there’: Making your Organization Responsive to BMoC
Action brief #3: Screening & Tool for Awareness & Relief of Trauma (START): A practical application of Trauma-Informed Care

The important considerations for working with young men of color specifically outlined in Healing in Color include:

  • Encouraging them to have a support system.
  • Equipping them with tools to calm their nervous systems.
  • Teaching them good sleep hygiene.

Experiential learning methods such as Psychodrama, are perfectly matched to address the problems and solutions for traumatized young men of color. Through movement, role play, and imagination in a group setting, they can share their stories, change the endings, and practice new behaviors in order to move forward in their lives.

The past can stay in the past rather than continuously and intrusively interrupting the present. The integration of feelings, sensations, and thoughts occur, “locking in” learning by reaching all levels of the brain. They can now take that learning into their lives outside the group setting. Utilization of self-regulation tools and a support system assists in healthy coping with the ongoing reality of violence, poverty, and racism.

Contrary to what society teaches them, men, including young men of color, are not invincible. They are human beings with all the feelings and physical vulnerabilities humans experience. They have a right to ask for and receive the help they need to deal with their life in a way that brings a sense of hope, agency, and inner peace.


Cronholm, P.F., Forke, C.M., Wade, R., et al. “Adverse Childhood Experiences: Expanding the Concept of Adversity.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2015; 49(3):354-361.

Dayton, T. (2004). The Living Stage: A Step-by-Step Guide to Psychodrama, Sociometry and Experiential Group Therapy. Deerfield Beach, FL. Health Communications Inc.

He Cries Alone: Black Men And PTSD
June 3, 2015…

PTSD in Men vs. Women: What We Are Learning
December 7, 2017

About the Author
Adena Bank Lees, LCSW

Adena Bank Lees, LCSW, is a counselor, speaker, author, and consultant, providing fresh perspective on traumatic stress, addiction treatment and recovery.

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