Muskegon looks to deal with high level of trauma

Muskegon County

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — A study of thousands of Muskegon residents shows they suffer from childhood trauma at a rate far above the national standard.

Experts say this can have impacts on both the physical and social health of the community.

The study of more than 2,500 Muskegon County residents over two years showed that 31 percent of people experienced multiple types of childhood trauma. That’s more than twice the national average, which is just more than 14 percent.

>>PDF: Resilience Muskegon study

“Those questions (in the study) are around topics such as physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, having parents who are divorced, having mental illness in the home, having a family member incarcerate,” said Lauren Meldrum, community relations manager for HealthWest, which provides mental health and other community services in Muskegon.

About 23 percent of the Muskegon County residents said they experienced some type of sexual abuse, compared with 11 percent nationally. Twenty-two percent said they had experienced physical abuse as children; the national average is about 15 percent.

Muskegon and Muskegon Heights have higher rates of poverty, crime and violence than the rest of West Michigan.

“There is a generational component with trauma,” Meldrum said, adding it is important to treat children and their parents.

The study looked at conditions called Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and includes things like abuse both sexual and physical, alcoholism, neglect, witnessing domestic violence and PTSD. These experiences create what is called toxic stress that can impact physical health, eating habits and behavior.

“The more ACEs someone has, the more likely they are to have things like cancer, diabetes, mental health issues, suicide attempts, substance use,” she said. “A lot of the health behaviors we see like overeating, smoking, substance use, many of those things are often coping mechanisms.”

For Muskegon County service providers, the information provides both a challenge and a road map to help the community become resilient. In the weeks since the study’s completion, HealthWest has worked to provide services to try to end abuse and the resulting trauma.

“We hope that what people take away isn’t just that we have high levels of trauma in our community,” Meldrom said.

A $4 million federal grant will assist local efforts to help at-risk youth facing mental health issues and trauma. There will also be efforts to bring mental health services out into the community, whether it be at home or in schools in Muskegon and Muskegon Heights.

“There’s a lot of hope in Muskegon County to do things differently and to see different outcomes in the future,” Meldrom concluded.

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