The past few years have been difficult for the city of Philadelphia and its citizens. Not only did Philadelphians have to prioritize safety from COVID-19, they were also surrounded by increased gun violence. In 2021, Philadelphia saw a record number of 486 homicides by shooting as well 1,846 non-fatal shootings. While numbers are down slightly from 2021, the city—on the heels of a mass shooting in South Philadelphia—is still experiencing a surge in shootings over the last two years.
Gun violence is a serious concern not just in Philadelphia, but nationally as well. And it comes as no surprise that gun violence can have a lasting effect on the mental health of victim’s families and loved ones. But it can also have a negative impact on the mental health of those who are not directly affected by it. With the plague of gun violence that has covered Philadelphia recently, it is important to understand the effects in can have all its residents.
According to clinical psychologist Leah Blain, exposure to trauma, including to gun violence, increases the risk of negative health outcomes like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression. These disorders can cause and exacerbate a wide range of physical health concerns, such as hypertension, pain, and even gastrointestinal issues.
Blain, who is the clinic director for the Penn Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic in psychiatry—which provides mental health treatment for veterans and their families at no costs—explains that if someone is already suffering from PTSD, surrounding gun violence can trigger symptoms such as hypervigilance, nightmares, and unwanted trauma memories.
Furthermore, gun violence in surrounding areas can create worry for individuals in the community. This worry may cause them to make drastic changes to their everyday lifestyles. For example, some may be hesitant to stand at a local bus stop for extended periods of time or they might refrain from being out in the community as much as possible. “This can reduce both healthy physical activity and diminish community connection and support. Losing social support is a critical issue since perceived social support is the number one predictor of recovery after trauma,” Blain shares.
This story is by Tristan Epps. Read more at Penn Medicine News.