3    Shellshocked

A traumatic event can be like an emotional sledgehammer to the brain, rewiring your nervous system, so it’s always revving in the red. It could leave you permanently edgy, your startle response on a tripwire. You’ll be quick to rage. You might struggle to concentrate or sleep. You’ll become listless and depressed. You might have flashbacks, or suppress those fossil-like memories. You might sink into the bottle, cut yourself off from others, or worse. But early efforts to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with psychedelics suggests that hallucinogenic mushrooms and MDMA - Ecstasy, on the street - might be able to rewire the brain back into a healthier, calmer state.  

Further listening: 

Dr Gabor Mate on the link between childhood trauma (as well as addiction, and recovery).






Facts & Figures:

Some sobering stats from South Africa, showing the link between trauma, depression, alcohol use, and domestic violence (linking sources from Episodes 3 & 4): 

  • South Africans are the heaviest drinkers on the continent
  • Total cost to the SA economy of the economic, social and health harms associated with alcohol use: R1 billion each year (South African Medical Journal), associated with things like the cost of hospital admissions, policing, arrests, imprisonment, social support, lost productivity, absenteeism from work, and so on.
  • It is described as the gateway drug

Alcohol is linked with: 

  • over half of all road-related deaths
  • half of all murders
  • one in three acts of violence
  • one in four suicides
  • over half of all hospital admissions in Durban, Cape Town, Umtata, and Port Elizabeth 
  • it is the third-largest contributor to death and disability after sexually transmitted infections and interpersonal violence - ‘and both of these are themselves influenced by alcohol’. 
  • moodiness, depression, anger, violence, lack of inhibition and impulse control, recklessness, and disconnection. 

Diepsloot research, by Sonke Gender Justice and Wits University, reportedly widely by the Mail & Guardian’s health desk, shows the link between childhood trauma and neglect, and patterns of depression, violence and alcohol abuse later in life: 

  • 2 600 Diepsloot men were interviewed: 55% said they’d abused a woman either sexually or physically in the previous year, 60% had done so more than once.
  • Health journalist Mia Malan explains: ‘(r)ape and sexual violence like this have very little to do with sexual desire. (Rather,) it’s an act of violence and a form of power. There’s also no single reason why men rape, but the evidence shows there’s a strong link between what happens to you as a child, and how you behave as an adult.’
  • Childhood trauma is at the root of most of this violence and need to assert power: ‘The men in this study who had experienced abuse as youngsters were five times more likely to use violence against a woman in their adulthood.’
  • Mia Malan: ‘Children exposed to physical, emotional, or sexual violence in the home and community are far more likely to themselves become involved in violence later in life - boys as perpetrators of that violence, and the girls as victims. But they’re also at increased risk of experiencing a host of other social problems, including psychological distress, alcohol abuse, poor school performance and increased involvement in crime, including interpersonal violence… we are in effect breeding a nation of abusers and victims.’
  • In South Africa, according to this study, 1 in 3 of our country’s kids under the age of 17 has been abused. One in three. 
  • Another study by the Medical Research Council, which looked at rape numbers in KwaZulu Natal and the Eastern Cape, found that 27% of men surveyed in the study had raped a woman. That’s around one in four men, resorting to such violence. When this group was questioned further, half of the men said they’d been bullied or abused as children. In the Diepsloot study, where over half of the men had raped a woman, 85% of the men said they’d been abused as boys.

Links between violence, depression and alcohol use: 

  • Mia Malan: ‘Half the men in the Diepsloot study were found to be depressed, and those that were depressed were three times as likely to be violent towards women.’
  • Half also showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress. 
  • Three-quarters of the men in the study reported problematic drinking - either daily, or occasional binging - and this increased the likelihood of them abusing women by 50%.