I wanted to devote some time to focusing on the victims of violent crime in Jackson, particularly our children.
Violence in Jackson
Last week in Jackson we experienced two shootings resulting in two deaths, bringing this year’s total to 38. This is dwarfed by the number of murders in some larger cities (Baltimore, Chicago, Atlanta), but nationally the murder rate is 4.9 per 100,000. For comparison, Jackson’s ratio at this point in the year is 1 murder : 4,435 people. The national rate is 1 : 20,408. (More information on Jackson’s Crime Stats can be found here).
Image from WJTV.com
An Epidemic of Trauma
As a counselor, I frequently work with people who have been direct victims of violent crime. I am also witness to the effects of community violence, not only on the victim, but on their family, friends, and neighbors. Violence can and does occur every where, but it is also true that some communities experience violence more frequently than others. Imagine, or remember, living in a place where a neighbor’s teen was jumped last night and had her front teeth knocked out, where two months ago and two streets away a domestic fight escalated and three people were shot.
The stress of living in a community regularly shaken by violence affects residents. In a recent survey conducted in Chicago’s Cook County Hospital a full 43% of emergency room visitors presented with symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (see Pro Publica). In a similar study conducted at Atlanta’s Grady Hospital, researchers have estimated that 80% of the Atlanta inner-city population that makes use of the hospital has suffered “significant trauma,” and that 30% meet diagnostic criteria for P.T.S.D (see the Grady Trauma Project).
Perhaps these rates are not surprising to you; these people are, we might safely assume, the direct victims of violence. Of course a high percentage of them experience P.T.S.D.
However, psychology research has long suggested that the fear/stress response underlying P.T.S.D. symptoms can be brought on not only by a single, major traumatic event, but also by repeated exposure to less extreme stressors (“peri-traumas”). In fact, the field of mental health and psychology has been moving towards the conclusion that the major neurological changes that result in P.T.S.D. symptoms do not occur only after personally experiencing violence or a dangerous accident. The criteria for diagnosing P.T.S.D. no longer require the individual in question to have been the direct victim of a trauma. The research underlying these changes suggest that being witness to violence, or having violence perpetrated on a loved one, or even regularly encountering “the effects of trauma” can result in P.T.S.D. or symptoms on that spectrum (see the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).
Tragically, communities that experience traumas at higher rates include children and youths. In a 2009 study, the Department of Justice Found that 60% of all children surveyed were exposed to violence in the last year, directly or indirectly (see The D.O.J.’s study). This survey was designed to be representative of American children across the county, not just “inner-city” children.
The majority of our children are exposed to violence. This statistic is reflective of what I witness as a therapist. My instinct is that 60% may even be a little too low to accurately describe the clients I see. And exposure is all that is necessary to create dramatic wounds.
Thanks, Erin, I now feel overwhelmed and powerless.
So now what? What is “Post Traumatic Stress”? And how could you and I even begin to address something so vast and tragic?
I will be briefly addressing the question “What is P.T.S.D.?” next week. And I will, in future, be sharing some thoughts on protecting our brothers, sisters, and children.
You do not have to wait to act, though, you can pray. Our prayers are heard by the Creator-God who sustains this world. Our prayers are powerful. We can also grieve for our brothers and sisters who experience violence; we can humbly move towards them. When we, ourselves, are affected by trauma we can seek care. And, we can seek to learn more.