After trauma: Dr. Sandro Galea on who might bounce back
Bad things are likely to happen to us in our lives. Very bad things. Traumatic things. Sadly, as much as we like to deny it, statistics prove this to be the case.
The way we will each respond and recover to those tragedies and setbacks, however, will differ dramatically. Some of us will sink into deep depression, even long-term dsyfunction. Some of us will skate through seemingly unscathed.
That strange phenomenon is what Dr. Sandro Galea (PopTech 2012) studies. He is an epidemiologist who examines why some people mentally bounce back after trauma while others continue to suffer, or even get worse. Among other things, his lab performed significant research into mental problems among witnesses to the 9-11 attacks.
In his 2012 PopTech talk, Galea started by shocking us out of denial. "It is ingrained in our minds that bad things happen to other people and sometimes they happen to good people," Galea said. The data Galea shared, however, shows that 9 out of 10 of us will suffer at least one traumatic event in our lifetime.
It gets worse: That frightening number seems likely to only go up. "The number of disasters in the world is increasing and it has been increasing for the past 30 years," he added.
Galea's research plumbs the sometimes-murky relationship between our genetic make up, how our parents behaved, and how the number of exposures to traumatic events can all interact. Those factors help determine how likely we are to seem resilient after disasters, or slip into serious mental problems like post-traumatic stress disorder.
He also explores the slippery nature of our memory when it comes to trauma. "These events happen," he said. "They are large events. We talk about them and then we forget about them, which is of course a problem if we are going to understand the consequences of bad stuff."
Galea's talk is part of a rich vein of PopTech content about recovering from mental trauma. For example, George Bonanno, (PopTech 2012) a psychology professor at Columbia University, also studies data that show how human beings cope with loss and extreme adversity. And Retired Army Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton, MD (PopTech 2012) and clinical trainer Laurie Leitch, Ph.D. (PopTech 2012) work on neurobiological approaches to social resilience. This line of inquiry seems likely to become more and more relevant with each passing year, as much as we like to deny it.
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