‘Urban traumatic stress disorder’ taking a toll on children and entire families


PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — For some residents in Hampton Roads, at any moment they may have to run for their lives. That was the case in April when a gunman opened fire on a cash wash in Portsmouth.

Fortunately, no one was injured and police say the suspects remain at large.

Cameron Bertrand knows what it means to run for your life. In November 2015, Bertrand was gunned down just off the campus of Norfolk State University. The gunshot wound caused permanent damage to one leg and periodically he walks with a cane. He lost some mobility, but that’s all.

Cameron Bertrand, center, with families (WAVY photo/Regina Mobley)

“[Also lost] the sense of rapport and the sense of trust that you have even going into a community, especially being an innocent victim of gun violence,” said Bertrand.

Six years later, the case remains unsolved, but now Bertrand is working to solve the gun violence problem in Hampton Roads and across the country.

In Norfolk, for example, low violent crime numbers involving juveniles were recorded earlier this year. However, the arrival of the summer season brought a sharp increase in the number of violent crimes.

The most disturbing trend involves the number of children who have been wounded by gunfire over the past two weeks across the region. In one case four children were shot at a Norfolk home. Police say the suspect is a 15-year-old boy.

(Photo courtesy: Brehon family)

A year ago, the region recorded the youngest-ever victim of gun violence. At 1 month old, Honesty Brehon and several adults were shot last summer. The suspect used what police described as an assault-style weapon.

Since then, multiple children have been shot and the violence is repeated night after night. Entire families are haunted by gunfire, the screams of pain, the lights and sirens of first responders, and the pain of recovery.

Dr. Dale G. Caldwell, executive director of Friends of PTSDJournal, uses the term “Urban traumatic stress disorder” to differentiate the type of trauma that is decimating urban communities across the country. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) describes a mental health condition that stems from an incident in the past, but Caldwell emphasizes that UTSD is continual.

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Bertrand, who recently founded the nonprofit organization Violence Intervention & Prevention LLC, says the continual urban trauma puts entire families, communities, and schools in peril.

“We see people who are surrounded and impacted by gun violence and then they are expected to go out and go to school and pay attention and focus,” said Bertrand.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the symptoms of traumatic stress disorder in children include reliving the traumatic event over and over, nightmares, a lack of positive emotions, and intense and ongoing fear.

Bertran says serious mental health disorders are inevitable among members of the community who suffer from UTSD.

“It’s almost like we see this cycle continuing and we are reshuffling the deck and tiptoeing around something that has not been done,” said Bertrand.

Bertrand is calling on state and local governments to provide additional funding for organizations that offer mental health support for those suffering from UTSD.

His organization offers free services to members of the community who have suffered a sudden loss due to COVID-19, violence, or an accident.

He tells 10 On Your side no one in need will be turned away. To contact Bertrand, check his website at BuyBackTheBlockVIP.org.

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