Editor’s note: This story covers remarks by members of law enforcement and education on the topic of trauma, and how trauma-informed care relates to their respective professions.

MACOMB — Mental health professionals aren’t the only ones working on the front lines of trauma.
The effects of traumatic experiences have made their way into the everyday work of a growing range of professionals.
To address a growing need for dialogue and training on the topic, the McDonough County Interagency Council held its annual professional development conference Friday on the topic of Trauma-Informed Care.
A number of professionals representing education, social work, medicine, law enforcement, mental health and others presented on the topic. They used lectures, panel discussions and breakout sessions to equip listeners — many of whom were also professionals or students training in these fields — with information about trauma, new discoveries on the topic and how to recognize and effectively work with traumatized individuals. About 80 professionals registered for the conference, with about 120 people total in attendance throughout the day.

Trauma
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services, individual trauma can result from experiencing an event or series of events or circumstances that are physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening. Some examples include being involved in a life-threatening accident, seeing a loved one die violently, experiencing combat or a natural disaster, experiencing sexual abuse, rape or assault, domestic abuse, intimate partner violence, and others.
Trauma can have lasting effects on a person’s everyday functioning and spiritual, mental, physical social and emotional well-being. Traumatic experiences can also factor into chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Although not everyone who experiences such extreme events will develop lifelong adverse symptoms, trauma is both widespread and common. It is estimated that 18.5 percent of returning veterans reported symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, according to a 2008 study by RAND, a nonprofit research and analysis organization. In the civilian population, about 7 percent has a lifetime prevalence of PTSD, according to a 2013 report by the National Center for PTSD.

Panel
Trauma-informed care is an organized approach for interacting with clients or individuals adversely affected by traumatic experiences. At the conference, a panel of members representing law enforcement, mental health and education gave their perspectives on the trauma-informed care approach and how using it has affected their respective professions. Participants included Chris Merrett, director of the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs and the moderator for the discussion; Deputy Chief David Burnham and Officer Troy Shoudel of the Macomb Police Department; Superintendent Carol Kilver of the West Prairie School District. Also presenting were Sheryl Yoder, licensed clinical professional counselor and Dr. Sajjad Sarwar, a psychiatrist at McDonough District Hospital.
Burnham said that law enforcement is encountering more mental health issues than before, including homelessness. “More and more everyday, we’re dealing with more and more people. The problem we’re running into is we’re limited on what we can do as police officers. Generally we arrest people and take them to jail. Obviously, that’s not the best place for somebody to be in a situation of that magnitude, if they’re having mental health issues,” he said.
Alternately, people in that situation may go to the hospital. But “it’s tough for them to find a location for us to actually house these people. So then, they may be kicked back out in the street,” he said.
To deal with the problem, the department is working with Dr. Sarwar to get information on patients and transfer them to Blessing Hospital in Quincy. But patients may be back within a week, leaving them with the same situation all over again. “I don’t know that there’s one big solution for it. I know that with institutions closing and things like that, they come back to the street,” Burnham said.
Shoudel is one of two officers who has participated in a week-long crisis intervention training that includes how to deal with individuals that have mental illness. Part of the training that had an impact on him involved a simulation of what it might be like to experience auditory hallucinations. He described what it was like to work while wearing headphones that played people whispering.
“It was very unsettling to experience that, but it does a very good job of showing you what it’s like to, say, be schizophrenic and have auditory hallucinations,” he said.
He explained that police tend to think people who avoid eye contact are being deceptive. “(But) it may not be that he’s being deceptive; it may be that he’s hearing voices that are telling him not to trust me. That’s something that law enforcement needs to be aware of.”
He feels more training is needed in dealing with individuals, and gave some insight from his experience in police academy training. “They spend some of the most time training you to do the things that you use least. So they spend 40 hours teaching you how to do firearms,” he said. “…They spend very little time teaching you how to interview people, whether that person has experienced trauma, or whether they have a mental illness. I do that every single day, on every call that I’m on.”
Kilver began as an educator 27 years ago. She said education is transitioning from what she called an “industrial age” model where teachers provide inputs to get successful outputs such as graduation to a more personalized and holistic model. “When I first started teaching, the students in my classroom who were ‘at risk’ kids – who didn’t get all the help they needed, they didn’t have helpers in their home – now those kids are raising their kids, and maybe raising their grandkids. …We’re often working with a generational issue where we have to be responsive to not only…the child, but we’re also helping the parents and possibly the grandparents who are helping raise that child,” she said. “So it really has become a holistic, kind of dynamic, very complex process where you have to be really alert to the situation and really read it well, which requires more listening…”
She also discovered that many adults – including employees as well as parents – will often score high on tests for trauma, such as the Adverse Childhood Experiences test. The ACE tallies different types of abuse, neglect and other traumatic experiences that can occur during childhood. People with high ACE scores are at greater risk of health problems and other difficulties. “It’s caused me as a school leader to not only be responsive to my students and their families, but even to my employees who’ve experienced things in their lives that really need a less than bureaucratic response and industrial response… It really is about creating a warm climate and culture in the schools that supports 360 degrees, everybody.”
Merrett asked her to describe how she handles conversations with parents whose own behavior might be contributing to generational trauma. She said this was where things often became complicated, so she chooses her language carefully and avoids shaming or judging people. She also uses predictable language. “Help your families understand, every time this happens, this is the way we’re going to talk about it… It really brings a sense of vulnerability that takes a lot of practice and competence as an educator. It would be fair to say that as an educator, sitting at a table with parents, you’re kind, you’re a good person. You don’t want to point out someone’s flaws,” she said. “So it takes some practice and some thinking about how you bring (problems) to the surface in a way that’s safe for everyone to discuss.”
She said teachers are often on the “front lines” when it comes to interacting with people who have experienced trauma. Although some training on trauma is available, she described it as “random acts of excellence.”
“We really need to move to more of a systemic approach” to train teachers about trauma, she said. “We’re here to educate kids. We didn’t anticipate, necessarily, being that front line. We didn’t necessarily sign up for it when we took our first teaching position. Looking at that, I think it is a situation as, where we prepare staff to talk about how do we create this kind of culture. We really want to provide competence, time to practice, possibly more role-playing.”
She said creating a new culture where people are supported is at odds with the current culture, which judges teachers on the test scores of their students. “We’re creating this stressful environment that’s driven by test scores and public perception which really doesn’t give us permission as educators to sit and have a really in-depth conversation about a child or a family that could really use some wraparound services.”
When asked who else should be involved in the conversation, panelists and audience members said clergy, policy makers, social workers, case workers, ER personnel and halfway house operators should be involved.

Reach Michelle Langhout by email at mlanghout@mcdonoughvoice.com or find her on Facebook.