May There Be Recovery From the Intergeneration Transmission of Trauma


May is Jewish, Haitian, and Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. What trauma have these groups inherited?

diversity heritage



The months in our national calendar celebrate all kinds of cultures and events. May, as we in psychiatry well know, celebrates mental health awareness. It also celebrates certain cultural heritages and their contributions to America: Jewish, Haitian, and Asian American and Pacific Islanders.

Yet, like most any heritage, individual or large groups of connected individuals, there can be concerns about what is inherited. Such seems to be the case with these 3 ethnic groups. They all have a history of extensive group trauma victimization in the United States and elsewhere, leaving significant intergenerational transmission of trauma via anxious parenting and epigenetic transmission of an overactive stress response. Moreover, the group traumas are continuing currently. We have had escalating conflict in Haiti, rising anti-Semitism in this country and elsewhere, and Asians blamed for the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are also other such groups in the United States, African Americans and Indigenous Americans for instance, who have similar trauma histories, and they are the focus in other months. We also now have a generation that has experienced all the traumas associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, a period that it seems we are just trying to forget without the necessary mourning and preparation for another pandemic.

Without conscious attention to breaking the cycles of major trauma transmission, they will not dissipate on their own. The clinician of any patient from such cultural backgrounds needs to be especially alert to actively inquire about trauma in the family history. The transmission can be disrupted by experiencing less group trauma or by cognitive recognition and positive reframing of the vulnerability, meaning that there is a possibility that the future will be better if certain things are done.

Therefore, perhaps the best mental health way to celebrate these heritages is not only to recognize their achievements and legacies, despite the obstacles encountered, but also the less recognized mental health challenges from their historical experiences. To do so, I would recommend a collective focus on overcoming intergenerational transmission of trauma, perhaps led by a psychiatric expert Task Force put together by our Surgeon General.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry and is now in retirement and retirement as a private pro bono community psychiatrist. A prolific writer and speaker, he has done a weekday column titled “Psychiatric Views on the Daily News” and a weekly video, “Psychiatry & Society,” since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. He was chosen to receive the 2024 Abraham Halpern Humanitarian Award from the American Association for Social Psychiatry. Previously, he received the Administrative Award in 2016 from the American Psychiatric Association, the one-time designation of being a Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Speaker of the Assembly of the APA in 2002, and the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in 1991. He is an advocate and activist for mental health issues related to climate instability, physician burnout, and xenophobia. He is now editing the final book in a 4-volume series on religions and psychiatry for Springer: Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianity, and now The Eastern Religions, and Spirituality. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.

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