Hood Disease. I first heard the term in a recent news report about Oakland youth suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on CBS Channel 5 in San Francisco. The violence, deaths of their peers and loved ones, and poverty are understandably having a psychological impact on many Oakland youth. I understand. I was born and raised in East Oakland, where I work in mental health advocacy. According to the report, Hood Disease is a coined term for PTSD afflicting inner-city youth.
Since the report by Wendy Tokuda, a nearly 30-year news veteran in the Bay Area, the term “Hood Disease” has gone viral. While I think this an important issue that needs to be covered, I find the label offensive. Based on what I’ve seen in social media, others do too. It’s racist and stigmatizing against people dealing with mental health and emotional challenges (I’ll explain later).
I emailed my concerns to Tokuda. As a result of the outrage and misreporting of the origins of this term by other media outlets, Tokuda said she is not going to use the term in further reports. In an email to me she wrote, “I am so troubled by what has happened with this term online. We have already taken it out of our headline.”
Tokuda is a former anchor and has covered inspirational stories about low-income youth overcoming odds for nearly two decades. I’m glad she made this decision. However, I’m still curious about who invented the term “Hood Disease.”
Various media outlets are either reporting it originated from the Center of Disease Control (CDC) or Harvard doctors, and citing Tokuda’s story as the source of this information. That’s not correct.
In the intro to her report, Tokuda said, “The CDC said these children often live in virtual war zones. And doctors at Harvard said they actually suffer from a more complex form of PTSD. Some call it Hood Disease.”
Notice in her intro, Tokuda said, “some” call it Hood Disease.” She didn’t say Harvard or the CDC called it Hood Disease. She Tweeted that she didn’t attribute the source of the term to Harvard or the CDC. I figured she wasn't referring to the CDC or Harvard, but I think people were confused by the way her intro was worded. So who are the "some?" Are they researchers, psychologists, people in the community? I contacted the CDC, Harvard and Tokuda for clarification.
In an email to me from the CDC’s Office of Communications, they wrote, “We are not aware of the reference from the other news story.” I also spoke to Harvard’s Director of Science Communications. He contacted PTSD experts at Harvard, and they said they have no idea where the term “Hood Disease” came from, and will look into it further.
On Tokuda’s Facebook page she posted, “Mark Beasley gave me the term HOOD DISEASE to describe complex PTSD among inner city kids.”
|Who is Mark Beasley?|
In my email to Tokuda, I asked where did she learn of the term “Hood Disease” and who is Mark Beasley. Is he a psychologist, social worker, someone in the community? She didn’t answer my question about Mark Beasley, but replied, “It came from a person who lives in East Oakland.”
Who is this person in East Oakland and what are his credentials? I don’t know if Mark Beasley on Facebook is the man from East Oakland she’s referring to. More importantly, I question why she used a term from some East Oakland man that she would identify in an email, and not interview him in her story. And if you notice in the story, none of the people she interviewed said "Hood Disease."
This incident is a reminder of how the media needs to be more mindful and careful when it comes to how they cover race, as well as mental health. Tokuda should’ve explained where this term “Hood Disease” came from. I also wished she questioned why this is a term that “some” people are labeling mostly poor, Black and Latino youth with PTSD. Looking back at horrific events such as Columbine, Oklahoma bombings, September 11th or the school shooting in Connecticut—the survivors of those were considered traumatized. Their trauma wasn’t compared to a disease. Yet youth of color suffering from the mental effects of ongoing violence, poverty, racism, etc. are labeled as having a disease? Calling their PTSD a disease takes the blame away from the social and economic disadvantages oppressing them.
Also, mental health stigma is a major problem in our society, and especially in communities of color. Labeling someone with a mental health challenge as having a “disease” can create self-shame. Some people don’t seek mental health treatment because of the stigma. Add to that, lack of education about mental health and access to quality treatment if you’re living in poverty.
I don’t know who came up with “Hood Disease” but PTSD is PTSD. Trauma is trauma. Anybody can suffer from trauma whether you’re an abused wealthy kid from a gated community or a poor kid living in a violent neighborhood.
I hope Channel 5 continue the series, yet be more mindful about their language. We need to continue discussing mental health. Our children have raised money to pay their friends’ funeral expenses, are awaken by gunshots at night, see underaged girls selling their bodies on the street, live near crack houses, carry anxiety just walking down the street to the store, and are wondering if they’re going to be next. Their young minds and hearts are heavy. But working in mental health advocacy, and overcoming my own challenges, I know people can recover and manage their mental health issues.
No more spreading Hood Disease. Let’s spread Hope and Healing.