Important souls: Anna’s story a sad tale through an abusive mental health system

Anna Jennings was an artist who suffered trauma, including sexual abuse, as a child. When she entered the mental health system, she suffered further trauma at their hands. As the description on the YouTube page of this video says: Out of her tragic death, and the deaths and abuses of many other trauma survivors, rose a movement to transform all social service systems to be “trauma-informed.” Ann Jennings, her mother, was an integral part of that movement. Over the last 20 years, there’s been a huge push in social services agencies to “recognize trauma as central to the experience of the vast majority of people” who come to these agencies for help.

Twenty years ago, when Ann Jennings gave her first talk about her daughter’s experience and the paradigm shift that was needed in the field, it was to a group of 200 psychiatric nurses. Three-quarters of them walked out.

In an interview for a post about the history of the trauma-informed movement, which I’m working on now, Ann Jennings told me:  “You get killed if you’re the messenger.”

The thinking then was that only a few people who entered the mental health system had experienced childhood trauma; now it’s recognized that almost all do. “We have a punitive paradigm going in this country,” says Jennings. “It’s changing slowly, but it makes it very, very difficult to deal with things like addressing parents and families. We’re all at-risk families. It’s all over the place.”

The director of this video is Susan Salasin, another pioneer. During her 40 years with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, she led the emergence of the trauma-informed movement. She worked with Andy Blanch and Joan Gillece of NCTIC (National Center for Trauma Informed Care), and with Leah Harris of the National Empowerment Center to produce this video for the Harvard Program for Refugee Trauma.

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