Children's Exposure to Weapons Violence Ups Risk of Mental Illness

Children who are exposed to weapons-related violence are more likely to develop mental illness.
Children who are exposed to weapons-related violence are more likely to develop mental illness.

HealthDay News — More than one in four children in the United States are exposed to weapon-related violence — as a victim or witness — which increases their risk for mental health problems, according to research published online in Pediatrics.

The research team focused on 4,114 children from 2 to 17 years old who participated in a telephone survey in 2011. Parents or caregivers answered questions for those younger than 10.

Based on the responses, the researchers estimated that more than 17.5 million children in the United States have experienced violence involving weapons such as guns, knives, rocks, and sticks. One child in 33 has been assaulted in incidents where lethal weapons — guns and knives — were used. Such lethal weapons exposure was associated with increased odds that the children will arm themselves, or associate with people carrying weapons. They are also more likely to suffer long-term psychiatric consequences, the study authors said.

"Exposure to violence involving highly lethal weapons is associated with higher trauma symptoms, over and above exposure to all other types of violence, making it a strong contributor to adolescent depression, anxiety and aggression," study coauthor Kimberly Mitchell, PhD, a research assistant professor of psychology at the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center in Durham, told HealthDay.

Children exposed to weapons-related violence are also more likely than others to experience seven or more types of victimization in the prior year, the researchers found. "This points to the importance of a public health approach to this problem and looking for community- and policy-level solutions," Mitchell added.

Reference

Mitchell KJ, et al. Weapon Involvement in the Victimization of Children. Pediatrics. 2015; doi: 10.1542/peds.2014-3966.

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