New model describes how cultural trauma can lead to health disparities

Two researchers from the University of California at Riverside have proposed a new model of “cultural trauma” that describes how traumas such as colonization, hate crimes and recent anti-immigrant media and policies can lead to health disparities. in many American cultural groups. .

Traditionally, studies of group trauma such as collective, mass, racial and historical trauma have focused on the immediate or long-term physical or psychological effects of such mass trauma on affected groups. But, in their new model, Andrew Subica and Bruce Link identify cultural trauma as trauma to the culture and cultural resources of maintaining the health of traumatized groups, calling it “overwhelming and often continuous physical or psychological aggression or stressor perpetuated by an oppressive dominant. group on a cultural group by force, threats of force or oppressive policies. “

“It is not just an assault on a person’s physical body or psychological well-being as in the traditional view of clinical trauma such as physical assault, sexual assault or combat,” said Subica, professor. Fellow in the Department of Social Medicine, Population, and Public Health at UCR School of Medicine and lead author of the article published in the journal Social Science and Medicine. “Cultural trauma stands out because it involves attacking and damaging the very culture of the people themselves.

“Because we know that a person’s culture is vital to their identity and ability to navigate the world around them to meet their basic health and social needs, our article suggests that by damaging or destroying destroying a group’s culture, cultural trauma robs people of important resources to protect their health from diseases such as obesity, cancer or COVID-19. “

To support their argument, Subica and Link invoke the famous theory of root causes to explain how this loss of cultural resources creates or worsens disparities in health between the generations. According to the theory, which Link, distinguished professor at the UCR School of Public Policy and co-author of the article, co-developed in the mid-1990s, “Health disparities persist due to underlying social factors. that disadvantage certain groups in accessing resources to protect health and prevent disease. “

Guided by this theory, Subica and Link argue that cultural trauma may be an unrecognized root cause of health disparities.

“Ultimately our model links cultural trauma to health disparities in terms of resource deprivation and social disadvantage,” said Subica, who is also trained as a clinical psychologist and disease researcher. severe mental illness and trauma. “So far no one has suggested this using root cause theory. As a result of cultural trauma, affected groups are socially disadvantaged and exposed to widespread stress, stigma and reduced resources, which perpetuate health disparities and increase their risk of illness and death. “

Subica and Link also offer several intervention approaches to address health disparities associated with cultural trauma. The first restores cultural practices damaged by racial socialization, traditional practices and cultural education. The second mobilizes communities to restore lost cultural resources. The third involves public actions, such as demonstrations, that sensitize the dominant group to the harmful effects of persistent cultural trauma among minority groups.

A multi-pronged approach may be needed to reduce health disparities. It should focus on restoring access to cultural and other health resources while healing the intergenerational physical and psychological consequences of these traumas.

Andrew Subica, Associate Professor, Department of Social, Population and Public Health Medicine, UCR School of Medicine

The study was funded by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, the lead federal agency for research into mental disorders.


University of California – Riverside

Journal reference:

Subica, AM & Link, BG, (2021) Cultural trauma as a root cause of health disparities. Social Sciences and Medicine.

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