Sen. Chris Murphy: Mental health crisis and gun violence

When we talk about the epidemic of gun violence, the focus is usually on the number of people killed or injured. But that doesn’t come close to describing the sheer scale of this crisis. We ignore the waves of grief and trauma that wash over society and leave invisible wounds, especially devastating to children.

Growing up in a violent neighborhood not only undermines your sense of safety and security, it also changes the chemistry in your brain. Scientists have documented how violence-based trauma and fear for one’s safety inject devastating amounts of the hormone cortisol into the brain. This is especially harmful to children’s growing brains and prevents them from sleeping, learning, and processing emotions. This dramatically affects brain development, making young people more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression.

A study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics looked at hospitalizations in pediatric emergency departments in Philadelphia between 2014 and 2018. After adjusting for all variables, it was found that children living within four to six blocks of the location where the shooting occurred were more likely than others to use ED. for mental health symptoms within two months of the shooting. Unsurprisingly, this was even more likely if they were exposed to multiple shelling or lived closer to the scene.

Communities suffering from daily violence undoubtedly endure the worst of it, but no American is immune to the trauma that guns inflict. Most teenagers worry their school could be next, and more than three-quarters of adults are concerned about the possibility of a mass shooting. Movie theaters, shopping malls, parades, office buildings, places of worship – wherever we go, most of us can’t get rid of the unsettling “what if” feeling.

There is no doubt that talking about gun violence should include talking about mental health. I was pleased that the bipartisan Safer Communities Act, of which I was the lead sponsor, provided $13 billion to expand school mental health programs, train more health workers, and improve access to mental health services for all.

But investing in mental health will not end the epidemic of gun violence. It is treating the symptoms, not the cause.

America faces both a mental health crisis and gun violence, but only one fuels the other. And contrary to what the gun lobby claims, it is guns that are fueling our mental health crisis, not the other way around. In fact, people with mental illness are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.

We must continue to invest in mental health programs that help survivors, families and communities learn how to cope, but the most meaningful action we can take is to build on the bipartisan Safer Communities Act and take steps to end gun violence. weapons affected fewer people. Passing universal background checks and banning assault weapons are proven ways to save lives and prevent weapons from falling into the wrong hands.

When tragedy strikes, this community is forever changed, and the least we can do is help them pick up the pieces. But that will never be enough. Every child deserves to grow up free from the fear of gun violence. And this future is possible only with the deliberate actions of Congress.

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