by Benjamin Barron
While gun violence in the United States is a subject that has drawn global attention, many citizens know little about the true impact of this violence upon children. A 2020 study of four U.S. cities found that gun violence is responsible for expanding adverse mental health effects in adults. Resulting levels of mental distress, psychosis, depression, and suicidal thoughts were found to be significantly high, especially in those who had witnessed a murder. If adults are suffering increased adverse mental health effects due to violence, then children assuredly are, as well.
As of the publication of this article, there were almost 560 mass shootings in the United States during the 2023 calendar year. In October 2022, just outside of my hometown of Gainesville, Georgia, Elijah Dewitt was murdered in broad daylight by two other juveniles at a local arcade. Dewitt, a local high school football star, was targeted and murdered while enjoying fall break with his friends during a botched robbery. This incident was particularly sobering at a personal level because that same location is a favorite place for me to spend time with my own two boys.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal presented a chilling snapshot of youth murders in contemporary America. According to the WSJ reporting, there has been drastic uptick in youth murders since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic; decades of progress were reversed due to intensified mental health issues caused by lockdowns, destabilized routines, isolation, and illicit substance use. As members of communities, we must intervene to stop these life-canceling acts of violence and advocate for safety and security within our environment. As social beings, we must value the sanctity of life and reinforce our connections with others. CWLA believes that we are all responsible for providing a safe environment in which our children can grow and flourish.
The COVID-19 pandemic intensified and expanded preexisting mental health challenges among children and adolescents. Emergencies involving suicide increased by 42% during the first few quarters of 2021. Concerned with declining mental health outcomes, in late 2021 Surgeon General Vivek Murthy decided to declare a national emergency, which prompted the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association to join forces to address a wide range of crises effecting children, families, and communities. With families of color impacted the most, more than 140,000 children had lost a caregiver due to COVID-19. Professionals also noted an increasing need to treat higher than normal “rates of depression, anxiety, trauma, loneliness, and suicidality.” The Surgeon General’s call to action was amplified a few months later by a long-running poll conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) indicating that Americans of every class and ethnicity were plagued with unrelenting stress.
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Benjamin Barron, a former policy and practice intern at CWLA, is a CPS investigator and social services specialist in Madison, Colorado. He holds an MSW from Georgia State University.