Exposure To Violence At Early Age Yields High Level Of Behavioral, Emotional Problems

By Victoria Kim 12/18/15

Instances of depression, anxiety, and withdrawal are significantly higher in violent areas.

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A new study on the mental health impact of violence on children focused on one particularly vulnerable group—children who lived in Juarez, Mexico, in 2010. These children lived through the peak of drug war violence in Juarez, formerly ranked the murder capital of the world for three consecutive years. More than 3,000 people were murdered in Juarez in 2010.

The researchers from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso) compared the mental health of children who lived in Juarez in 2010 to the mental health of children living in El Paso, Texas, its neighbor across the border. El Paso is considered a relatively safe city; there were just five recorded homicides there in 2010.

The findings show that among children living in Juarez, issues like depression, aggression, anxiety, withdrawal, and attention deficit disorder were three times higher.

The researchers collected more than 600 child behavioral checklists filled out by parents in Juarez and El Paso in 2010. The questionnaire is typically used to identify the frequency of behavioral and psychosocial problems in children.

Since the study’s findings are not based on actual testimony from parents and children from Juarez, the study can only assume they were indirectly exposed to the violence, which at the time manifested as mass murders and acts of terror—kidnappings, shootings, bombings and decapitations, to name a few. Study author Dr. Marie Leiner, a pediatric researcher at TTUHSC El Paso, noted that the magnitude of the violence in Juarez at that time was unavoidable, especially because the Mexican media does not censor images of even extreme acts of violence, which can by itself be traumatic and terrifying.

Dr. Leiner said the children from Juarez need mental healthcare to address the trauma of the excessive violence. This will reduce the probability of developing behavioral issues as they grow older. The earlier, the better. “Exposure to violence makes you aggressive,” said Dr. Leiner. “And if you want to reduce aggression, you need to intervene at a very young age.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr