The Relationship Between Community Violence and Trauma: How Violence Affects Learning, Health, and Behavior

The Relationship Between Community Violence and Trauma: How Violence Affects Learning, Health, and Behavior

Community violence — which includes experiencing or witnessing gun violence as well as exposure to drug markets — can have long-term cumulative effects on health and well-being, a report from the Violence Policy Center finds. Funded by the California Wellness Foundation, the report, The Relationship Between Community Violence and Trauma: How Violence Affects Learning, Health, and Behavior (26 pages, PDF), found that high levels of chronic stress is toxic for brain development in young people and is linked to higher risk of poor physical, mental, and behavioral health. Community violence also is associated with low rates of physical activity and high rates of smoking, unhealthy eating habits, and poor sleep patterns, resulting in increased risk of obesity, cancer, lung disease and asthma, diabetes and hepatitis, and ulcers and other gastrointestinal disorders. The report also notes that toxic stress from exposure to community violence often negatively affects a child’s academic performance, educational and career aspirations, self-esteem, and ability to form trusting relationships; the ability to control impulsive behaviors and use information to make good decision; and to differentiate between threat and safety — which in turn can lead to higher incidences of anger, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse, as well as general desensitization to violence. Efforts to prevent gun violence, the report suggests, should include community-based violence reduction and/or intervention initiatives that include connecting residents to job training and employment opportunities as well as mental health services.