Chronic Exposure to Violence Can Lead to Mental Health Issues in Youth

According to a recent study led by Gregory M. Zimmerman of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern University in Massachusetts, violence does indeed discriminate. Zimmerman was prompted to gauge exposure to violence among the black and Hispanic populations, compared to the levels of exposure to violence among white people. He was interested in the compounding negative effect that violence and its risk factors have on youth. It has been well established that adolescents and young adults who are raised in socioeconomically disadvantaged communities are more likely to be exposed to violence than their more economically privileged peers. Forms of violence include assault, bullying, sexual assault, and homicide. This chronic violence can lead to various forms of psychological problems for these youths, including substance misuse, risky sexual behavior, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, sleep problems, developmental delays, and aggressive or violent behavior. In addition, these disadvantaged youths are less likely to have the means for or access to mental health or physical health services. Therefore, it is imperative that accurate risk ratios be compiled in order to prompt immediate attention to this negative cycle of violence.

Zimmerman assessed over 2,300 young adults from 80 urban neighborhoods and found that the compared to white participants, Hispanic youth had a 74% higher chance of being exposed to violence and black participants had 112% increased risk of exposure to violence. These numbers are startlingly high, but are not surprising to Zimmerman. He hopes that these results underscore the need for targeted programs designed to address the numerous social and mental health needs of children being raised in poverty, and especially minority children at risk for negative developmental outcomes as a result of witnessing violent acts. More specifically, Zimmerman believes that increasing services directed toward meeting the needs of at-risk youth in disadvantaged communities can prevent the outcomes outlined here. Additionally, advancing research in this area can also reveal other factors that impact these highly disproportionate risk rates. “In turn,” added Zimmerman, “Understanding the ways in which social conditions and exposure to violence co-vary could aid in the design of individual- and community-specific interventions that have the highest potential for success.”

Zimmerman, Gregory M., and Steven F. Messner. Individual, family background, and contextual explanations of racial and ethnic disparities in youths’ exposure to violence. American Journal of Public Health 103.3 (2013): 435-42. Print.

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  • dan s

    dan s

    March 12th, 2013 at 3:53 AM

    I wonder how this kind of exposure to violence translates when it’s not violence that they experience in the home or on the streets, but on tv or in video games. Do they end up exhibiting the same mental health issues or propensity for violence when they are actually from loving homes but have a lot of exposure from other mediums?

  • Carson


    March 12th, 2013 at 2:35 PM

    Well, the sad thing about all of this is that it is not so easy to just up and move a child from a violent home, sometimes even if the child is in danger it takes an act of Congress to get him even temporarily removed!
    But even when you remove the child physically it is tough to remove all of that from his mond that he has been exposed to and been forced to be a witness too. Those things just can’t be wiped clean even if he is removed at a young age.
    You are up a very hard situation when working with these children because it is one of those times that you see them always having to fight an uphill battle just to keep their heads above water and maintain some normalcy and a feeling of safety in their lives.

  • RQ


    March 14th, 2013 at 1:31 PM

    There is no quick fix to this. The soonest we understand this the less finger pointing there will be and the more action that can be taken. We have been in a cycle of blaming the parents then racial discrimination then general violence and then the unwillingness of the government to change things. If we can all do our bit to help then maybe these children can have a life without such haunting in the future and a childhood they truly deserve.

  • shaq


    March 16th, 2013 at 6:13 AM

    Not only is this gonna lead to more mental health issues but it is also gonna set these kids up for experiencing even more violence in their lives at some point, either by having it placed upon them or by them doing it to someone else. I grew up like this, I know the lifestyle and I can tell you that it is not good to have to see all of this all the time as a kid. I watched my mom and dad both get hurt all the time by each other, and it was just a cycle that they had already learned from someone else. Parents, I beg you that if you are not in a position to give your own kids something better than what you had growing up, then let someone else have them because the only way for this cycle to stop is to have them get it out of their lives.

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