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Communities Transforming Trauma

The recently concluded global leader training with the Center for Mind-Body Medicine (CMBM) was one of the most rewarding experiences I have been a part of. The subject of trauma served as the connection point between leadership development and an educational approach to the roots of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Trauma experienced by individuals and communities can fracture the collective well-being and the first step to begin to heal is to express it and share it with others who have experienced it in safe and professional discussion environments.

Fuego Sutil por Mariely Rivera

The approach to trauma, led by Dr. James Gordon of the CMBM, has been studied and practiced for more than three decades with people who have assumed some responsibility to face deeply unjust and regrettable situations, for example, wars, torture, natural disasters, poverty, violence, degenerative diseases, among others. The most recent trauma that we have experienced is the Covid-19 pandemic which has affected our collective mental health.


Individuals working in leadership positions must be receptive to discussing trauma. It is vital to work on it since we are exposed to making decisions in times of emergencies, providing support to work teams, and dealing with critical situations that put our safety and life at risk. As a result, we are vulnerable to the frailty caused by PTSD. The human body becomes violent after trauma and a breakdown can manifest itself leading to changes in our physiological response.


According to data studied by the CMBM, 82% of individuals in the United States have experienced at least one trauma in their life. Another revealing fact is that the risk of experiencing PTSD is twice as high in women. This last data point is critical for us when you consider the trauma experienced as a result of Hurricanes Irma and María in Puerto Rico, where the emergency and recovery response at the community level was mostly led by women. There is no study on the impact to these women, however, it has been a common discussion topic among many groups composed of community-based non-profit organizations.


Communities and individuals who have experienced trauma should seek support of health professionals, but they are not the only sources of aid. All people can learn to understand, deepen their knowledge, and promote mental health in their community. Collective healing needs many people determined to work on it. Mental health is a right of all people, it is a key social determinant of health and well-being, and it is part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda. Sometimes we think that we are so far from each other throughout the world but learning to deal with traumatic experiences can unite us. When you share your experiences with others you see that there truly are no distances between Puerto Rico, New Orleans, Kosovo, Malaysia, Lebanon, Iran, Ireland, England, South Sudan, Haiti, and many other places where the tipping point is caused by trauma, most recently the pandemic. We must urgently grasp that we are also facing a mental health pandemic and that it is up to each one of us to recognize the trauma it creates and do our part to transform it.


Mariely Rivera Hernández is the Executive Director and founder of the ChangeMaker Foundation. She is the author of “Pivots: Agents of Change” published in 2021, and the creator and producer of Pivot-ES, a podcast awarded with a 2020 Latin Podcast Award.


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