Community Violence

Posted Jun 4, 2020

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Community violence is a complex term that has been used to refer to a wide range of events, such as civil unrest (e.g., riots, shootings, terrorism), workplace violence (e.g., assaults), or other acts of abuse (sexual, physical, or emotional). Mental health professionals often make a distinction between studies on crime-related events in which adults are often the focus and studies on exposure to violence in which children and adolescents are often the focus.

How is community violence different from other types of trauma?

Several aspects of community violence make it different from other types of trauma. Although there are warnings for some traumas, community violence usually happens without warning and comes as a sudden and terrifying shock. Because of this, communities that suffer from violence often experience increased fear and a feeling that the world is unsafe and that harm could come at any time. Although some traumas affect only one individual or a small group of people, community violence can permanently destroy entire neighborhoods. Finally, although some types of trauma are accidental, community violence is intentional, which can lead survivors to feel an extreme sense of betrayal and distrust toward other people.

What are the effects of witnessing or experiencing community violence?

As is the case with other traumas, individuals often experience posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of community violence. PTSD can affect people of all ages.

Children and families: Although some people think that young children are not psychologically affected by exposure to community violence because they are too young to understand or remember the violence, studies have found posttraumatic symptoms and disorders among infants and toddlers. Children's and adolescents' risk for developing PTSD increases with the severity of exposure, negative parental reactions to the exposure, and the child's physical proximity to the community violence.

The impact of community violence exposure is not felt by the youth alone. A child's or adolescent's exposure to community violence also affects his or her family. Extreme anxiety concerning the child's health and well-being is a common parental reaction. Resources for parents may be limited, which may lead to frustration and anger. Many parents blame themselves for not protecting their child adequately. They may become overprotective or use punitive discipline in response to their child's trauma-related acting-out behavior. Relationships among family members can become strained. Parents find themselves having to face the task of reassuring their child while trying to cope with their own fears, especially if there is a chronic risk for future community violence exposure.

Adults: Adults can also experience PTSD following exposure to community violence. In addition to symptoms of PTSD, survivors of community violence often struggle with

  • How to build trust again (which includes looking at issues of power, empowerment, and victimization)
  • How to find meaning in life apart from the desire for revenge
  • How to find realistic ways to protect themselves, their loved ones, and their homes and community from danger
  • How to deal with feelings of guilt, shame, powerlessness, and doubt

A final concern regarding the effects of community violence is whether there is a link between witnessing violence and becoming violent, especially in intimate relationships. No studies have determined whether there is a relationship between community violence and domestic violence.

What treatments are available for individuals exposed to community violence?

Rapid, timely, and sensitive care for the community and affected individuals and families is the key to preventing PTSD in the wake of violence. Such care is also the key to reducing violence itself. Mental-health professionals with expertise in community violence can contribute in several ways:

  • Help community leaders develop violence-prevention and victim-assistance programs.
  • Help religious, educational, and health care leaders and organizations set up relief centers and shelters.
  • Work with teachers at children's schools to provide education, debriefing, and referrals for affected children.
  • Provide direct psychological services near the site of violence, such as
    • Debriefings
    • 24-hour crisis hotline
    • Identifying survivors or bereaved family members who are at high risk for developing PTSD
    • Getting individuals connected with appropriate continuing treatment

How can community violence be prevented?

Some progress has been made in developing violence-prevention programs. The focus for these programs is prevention of gangs and building conflict-resolution skills in high-risk youths. However, violence prevention programs appear to be more effective if children are engaged early (beginning before age 6) and the program includes intervention in children's home and school social environments. Programs should also continue to make specific efforts to reduce obvious high-risk behaviors among adolescents, such as gang involvement, heavy drinking, and carrying handguns. 

Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, National Center for PTSD; www.ptsd.va.gov

Community violence is a complex term that has been used to refer to a wide range of events, such as civil unrest (e.g., riots, shootings, terrorism), workplace violence (e.g., assaults), or other acts of abuse (sexual, physical, or emotional). Mental health professionals often make a distinction between studies on crime-related events in which adults are often the focus and studies on exposure to violence in which children and adolescents are often the focus.

How is community violence different from other types of trauma?

Several aspects of community violence make it different from other types of trauma. Although there are warnings for some traumas, community violence usually happens without warning and comes as a sudden and terrifying shock. Because of this, communities that suffer from violence often experience increased fear and a feeling that the world is unsafe and that harm could come at any time. Although some traumas affect only one individual or a small group of people, community violence can permanently destroy entire neighborhoods. Finally, although some types of trauma are accidental, community violence is intentional, which can lead survivors to feel an extreme sense of betrayal and distrust toward other people.

What are the effects of witnessing or experiencing community violence?

As is the case with other traumas, individuals often experience posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of community violence. PTSD can affect people of all ages.

Children and families: Although some people think that young children are not psychologically affected by exposure to community violence because they are too young to understand or remember the violence, studies have found posttraumatic symptoms and disorders among infants and toddlers. Children's and adolescents' risk for developing PTSD increases with the severity of exposure, negative parental reactions to the exposure, and the child's physical proximity to the community violence.

The impact of community violence exposure is not felt by the youth alone. A child's or adolescent's exposure to community violence also affects his or her family. Extreme anxiety concerning the child's health and well-being is a common parental reaction. Resources for parents may be limited, which may lead to frustration and anger. Many parents blame themselves for not protecting their child adequately. They may become overprotective or use punitive discipline in response to their child's trauma-related acting-out behavior. Relationships among family members can become strained. Parents find themselves having to face the task of reassuring their child while trying to cope with their own fears, especially if there is a chronic risk for future community violence exposure.

Adults: Adults can also experience PTSD following exposure to community violence. In addition to symptoms of PTSD, survivors of community violence often struggle with

  • How to build trust again (which includes looking at issues of power, empowerment, and victimization)
  • How to find meaning in life apart from the desire for revenge
  • How to find realistic ways to protect themselves, their loved ones, and their homes and community from danger
  • How to deal with feelings of guilt, shame, powerlessness, and doubt

A final concern regarding the effects of community violence is whether there is a link between witnessing violence and becoming violent, especially in intimate relationships. No studies have determined whether there is a relationship between community violence and domestic violence.

What treatments are available for individuals exposed to community violence?

Rapid, timely, and sensitive care for the community and affected individuals and families is the key to preventing PTSD in the wake of violence. Such care is also the key to reducing violence itself. Mental-health professionals with expertise in community violence can contribute in several ways:

  • Help community leaders develop violence-prevention and victim-assistance programs.
  • Help religious, educational, and health care leaders and organizations set up relief centers and shelters.
  • Work with teachers at children's schools to provide education, debriefing, and referrals for affected children.
  • Provide direct psychological services near the site of violence, such as
    • Debriefings
    • 24-hour crisis hotline
    • Identifying survivors or bereaved family members who are at high risk for developing PTSD
    • Getting individuals connected with appropriate continuing treatment

How can community violence be prevented?

Some progress has been made in developing violence-prevention programs. The focus for these programs is prevention of gangs and building conflict-resolution skills in high-risk youths. However, violence prevention programs appear to be more effective if children are engaged early (beginning before age 6) and the program includes intervention in children's home and school social environments. Programs should also continue to make specific efforts to reduce obvious high-risk behaviors among adolescents, such as gang involvement, heavy drinking, and carrying handguns. 

Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, National Center for PTSD; www.ptsd.va.gov

Community violence is a complex term that has been used to refer to a wide range of events, such as civil unrest (e.g., riots, shootings, terrorism), workplace violence (e.g., assaults), or other acts of abuse (sexual, physical, or emotional). Mental health professionals often make a distinction between studies on crime-related events in which adults are often the focus and studies on exposure to violence in which children and adolescents are often the focus.

How is community violence different from other types of trauma?

Several aspects of community violence make it different from other types of trauma. Although there are warnings for some traumas, community violence usually happens without warning and comes as a sudden and terrifying shock. Because of this, communities that suffer from violence often experience increased fear and a feeling that the world is unsafe and that harm could come at any time. Although some traumas affect only one individual or a small group of people, community violence can permanently destroy entire neighborhoods. Finally, although some types of trauma are accidental, community violence is intentional, which can lead survivors to feel an extreme sense of betrayal and distrust toward other people.

What are the effects of witnessing or experiencing community violence?

As is the case with other traumas, individuals often experience posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of community violence. PTSD can affect people of all ages.

Children and families: Although some people think that young children are not psychologically affected by exposure to community violence because they are too young to understand or remember the violence, studies have found posttraumatic symptoms and disorders among infants and toddlers. Children's and adolescents' risk for developing PTSD increases with the severity of exposure, negative parental reactions to the exposure, and the child's physical proximity to the community violence.

The impact of community violence exposure is not felt by the youth alone. A child's or adolescent's exposure to community violence also affects his or her family. Extreme anxiety concerning the child's health and well-being is a common parental reaction. Resources for parents may be limited, which may lead to frustration and anger. Many parents blame themselves for not protecting their child adequately. They may become overprotective or use punitive discipline in response to their child's trauma-related acting-out behavior. Relationships among family members can become strained. Parents find themselves having to face the task of reassuring their child while trying to cope with their own fears, especially if there is a chronic risk for future community violence exposure.

Adults: Adults can also experience PTSD following exposure to community violence. In addition to symptoms of PTSD, survivors of community violence often struggle with

  • How to build trust again (which includes looking at issues of power, empowerment, and victimization)
  • How to find meaning in life apart from the desire for revenge
  • How to find realistic ways to protect themselves, their loved ones, and their homes and community from danger
  • How to deal with feelings of guilt, shame, powerlessness, and doubt

A final concern regarding the effects of community violence is whether there is a link between witnessing violence and becoming violent, especially in intimate relationships. No studies have determined whether there is a relationship between community violence and domestic violence.

What treatments are available for individuals exposed to community violence?

Rapid, timely, and sensitive care for the community and affected individuals and families is the key to preventing PTSD in the wake of violence. Such care is also the key to reducing violence itself. Mental-health professionals with expertise in community violence can contribute in several ways:

  • Help community leaders develop violence-prevention and victim-assistance programs.
  • Help religious, educational, and health care leaders and organizations set up relief centers and shelters.
  • Work with teachers at children's schools to provide education, debriefing, and referrals for affected children.
  • Provide direct psychological services near the site of violence, such as
    • Debriefings
    • 24-hour crisis hotline
    • Identifying survivors or bereaved family members who are at high risk for developing PTSD
    • Getting individuals connected with appropriate continuing treatment

How can community violence be prevented?

Some progress has been made in developing violence-prevention programs. The focus for these programs is prevention of gangs and building conflict-resolution skills in high-risk youths. However, violence prevention programs appear to be more effective if children are engaged early (beginning before age 6) and the program includes intervention in children's home and school social environments. Programs should also continue to make specific efforts to reduce obvious high-risk behaviors among adolescents, such as gang involvement, heavy drinking, and carrying handguns. 

Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, National Center for PTSD; www.ptsd.va.gov

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, assessments, and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical, health care, psychiatric, psychological, or behavioral health care advice. Nothing contained on the Achieve Solutions site is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment or as a substitute for consultation with a qualified health care professional. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your health care provider.  ©2019 Beacon Health Options, Inc.

 

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