Battling Trauma and Toxic Stress – At the Community and Individual Levels

St. Louis Family & Community Partnership Meeting, March 16, 2016

Attendees at the March 16 St. Louis Family & Community Partnership meeting at Vision for Children at Risk heard two complementary perspectives in the battle against trauma and toxic stress. Jennifer Brinkmann and Sean Marz from Alive and Well STL and the St. Louis Regional Health Commission discussed their community-wide program. Khatib Waheed from the Resilience Coalition described front-line efforts to work with children and families in Ferguson. Both are based on the realization that trauma and toxic stress greatly affect the psychological and emotional well-being of individuals, as well as their physical health.

Alive and Well STL

Seeking to educate the community about toxic stress and how it affects both mental and physical health, Alive and Well STL has engaged media partnerships with KSDK-TV, Radio One and the St. Louis American. By sharing stories and information, these partnerships help reduce the stigma of seeking treatment for mental health problems and increase the capacity of individuals to take action to improve their emotional well-being.

Another goal is community training. More than 2,000 individuals and 140 organizations have been trained on trauma and its impact. Alive and Well STL has three full-time trainers. The curriculum was developed by the Missouri Department of Mental Health. The Alive and Well STL website,, has opportunities to share stories and listen to those of others, plus educational resources, opportunities to become an ambassador and links to mental health resources. A toolkit to help teachers build trauma-informed classrooms is also available. Jennifer and Sean encouraged agencies to share stories via the website, participate in training and become community partners.

Khatib Waheed

The Resilience Coalition was established by Gov. Jay Nixon in 2014 in response to the death of Michael Brown. The Departments of Mental Health, Social Services and Elementary & Secondary Education are partners in the Coalition.

The Coalition works with a broad array of partners to help them understand the nature and effects of trauma and toxic stress, with a particular focus on the impact of social factors such as race, dangerous neighborhoods and poverty on individuals. The coalition does both in-depth work with families and individuals and has conducted listening sessions since its inception. These sessions help individuals recognize toxic stress and identify ways to cope with it.

The Coalition has worked with youth service organizations, churches, community service organizations and others. Waheed stressed the significance of weaving the potential healing powers of mental health therapy and of faith in helping individuals cope with stress and trauma.

It is particularly important that schools are adequately prepared to work with children who experience trauma and toxic stress. Seven St. Louis Public Schools self-selected to be part of the Shut It Down initiative, which seeks to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline and set students on a positive trajectory. This is a key part of the Coalition’s work in school settings. Success will require creating a culture in which the needs of children are understood and responded to, and in which staffs emotional and mental health needs are recognized and responded to as well.

For More Information

Alive & Well website –

Resilience Coalition Update Presentation –


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