Recognizing and preventing the health effects of violence

Exposure to violence leads to multiple types of mental and behavioral disorders :depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, sleep and eating disorders, substance abuse and suicide attempts. Adults who experienced childhood trauma struggle with stress due to finances, family and jobs. Abused children often  commit crime as adults.

I read the newspaper article in disbelief, then grief; a family of five, parents and three children, murdered in their home in my community. Even more shocking, the assailants were their other two teen-aged children!

Things like this just don’t happen here, a suburban city that is quiet, peaceful and secure. Statistically, one of the safest cities in our state and even the country. But that doesn’t make us immune- violence can happen anywhere to anybody.

“siblings charged with first-degree murder in stabbings of family members”

I  know. Two of my husband’s relatives were murdered. One of them survived multiple wounds from a vicious assault, only to die from a second attack.  The other one died from an in-home attack, a case that is still open and cold- the killer has never been arrested and brought to justice.

I served as the doctor at a summer camp for children in foster care . Almost all had suffered physical abuse .

“Mother accepts plea deal, prison time for committing child neglect, abuse “

What is interpersonal violence?

The World Health Organization defines interpersonal violence as

“the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against another person, group or community that results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.”

The major agencies that track statistics on interpersonal violence, call it

  • “a pervasive public health, social and developmental threat.”
  • “a leading cause of death, particularly in children, adolescents and young adults.”

“Reporter, photographer  shot and killed during live report”

Did you know that exposure to violence can

  • Cause immediate physical wounds and
  • Result in long-lasting mental and physical health conditions?

Violence matters because it 

  • Directly affects health care cost and payments
  • Indirectly stunts economic development
  • Increases inequality
  • Erodes human capital

Violence causes physical injuries many of which are fatal or leave permanent disability. Other results include sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, and unintended pregnancy and pregnancy complications.

“Elderly woman beaten to death by two people she lived with. “

Medical effects of violence

Violence contributes to several chronic medical conditions   although the exact relationship is not  clear.  These include heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease (possibly due to smoking), diabetes, alcohol abuse and obesity.

“Rape charges filed against man accused of attacking pregnant woman “

Mental and emotional effects of violence

Exposure to violence leads to multiple types of mental and behavioral disorders :depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, sleep and eating disorders, substance abuse and suicide attempts. Adults who experienced childhood trauma struggle with stress due to finances, family and jobs. Abused children often  commit crime as adults.

“Teen suspected in violent crime spree arrested”

Our health care system encourages prevention, but tends to focus on the prevention of cancers, heart disease, infectious disease and dementia.

But given the far reaching consequences of interpersonal violence,preventing the resulting health problems is just as important. The  multiple factors that contribute to violence makes that a daunting task.

Violence is  a public health, social and political problem. Physicians, mental health professionals, teachers, and law enforcement deal with the effects in the course of our work every day.

Opportunities for prevention

The article concludes with a summary of “opportunities for prevention.” The emphasis is on starting in childhood to address the factors than can lead to violence and to focus on the family unit and schools.

What can we do to prevent violence ?

  1. Early childhood visitation
  2. Parenting training
  3. School-based social-emotional learning approach
  4. Early childhood education , Head Start as an example
  5. Public policy; for  example , addressing laws related to alcohol sales, since alcohol consumption is associated with violence
  6. Therapeutic approaches , including CBT- cognitive behavioral therapy

“Mothers band together to protect Chicago neighborhood”


Read a  true story about surviving violence

( this is an affiliate link; at no extra cost to you, this blog may receive a commission if you buy through this link; thanks.)

The Rising -Murder, Heartbreak, and the Power of Human Resilience in an American Town 

by Ryan D’Agostino

The astonishing story of one man’s recovery in the face of traumatic loss—and a powerful meditation on the resilience of the soul

On July 23, 2007, Dr. William Petit suffered an unimaginable horror: Armed strangers broke into his suburban Connecticut home in the middle of the night, bludgeoned him nearly to death, tortured and killed his wife and two daughters, and set their house on fire. He miraculously survived, and yet living through those horrific hours was only the beginning of his ordeal.

Broken and defeated, Bill was forced to confront a question of ultimate consequence: How does a person find the strength to start over and live again after confronting the darkest of nightmares?

In The Rising, acclaimed journalist Ryan D’Agostino takes us into Bill Petit’s world, using unprecedented access to Bill and his family and friends to craft a startling, inspiring portrait of human strength and endurance.

To understand what produces a man capable of surviving the worst, D’Agostino digs deep into Bill’s all-American upbringing, and in the process tells a remarkable story of not just a man’s life, but of a community’s power to shape that life through its embrace of loyalty and self-sacrifice as its most important values. Following Bill through the hardest days—through the desperate times in the aftermath of the attack and the harrowing trials of the two men responsible for it—The Rising offers hope that we can find a way back to ourselves, even when all seems lost.

Today, Bill Petit has remarried. He and his wife have a baby boy. The very existence of this new family defies rational expectation, and yet it confirms our persistent, if often unspoken, belief that we are greater than what befalls us, and that if we know where to look for strength in trying times, we will always find it.

Bill’s story, told as never before in The Rising, is by turns compelling and uplifting, an affirmation of the inexhaustible power of the human spirit.

reprinted from a Goodreads review

Exploring the HEART of understanding and preventing the health effects of violence

All the quotes about violent crimes that I used in this post I found in recent news headlines. They are all from true events.


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