- NEW YORK - Adolescents who are exposed to high levels of violence in their
neighborhoods are likely to engage in antisocial behavior and to suffer
from anxiety, depression and psychosomatic illness, according to a study
by researchers at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., and the University
of California, Irvine.
- In two separate studies of more than
2,600 subjects each, Dr. Mary Schwab-Stone, of the Yale Child Study Center,
and colleagues surveyed 6th, 8th, and 10th-grade students in an urban school
system. A subgroup of some 1,100 students were included in both studies
which were conducted in 1994 and 1996. Their report is published in the
Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
- "More than one third of the adolescents
(36% in both 1994 and 1996) had experienced at least one type of violent
act," the researchers report. In each year, 18% reported that a gang
or an individual had chased them, and 18% reported they had been threatened
with physical harm. Between 5% and 10% reported that they had been attacked
or stabbed with a knife, been shot or shot at, beaten or mugged.
- At least half reported seeing someone
else being chased by a gang or individual, beaten or mugged, or wounded
seriously. In 1994, 46% reported having seen someone shot or shot at.
- In 1996, that number decreased to 39%.
More than one-quarter reported having seen someone attacked or stabbed,
the investigators found.
- Schwab-Stone and associates found that
the resulting behavior and psychological symptoms differed according to
gender, grade level, and ethnicity. Adolescents who were female, younger,
and white were less likely to act out in antisocial ways than their older,
male, and ethnic minority counterparts.
- Younger adolescents, those in 6th grade,
females, and Latinos appeared to suffer greater psychological stress than
did male African-American and white counterparts.
- The researchers suggest that younger
adolescents are at higher risk of developing psychiatric symptoms after
exposure to violence because they have a poorer understanding of social
relationships and less effective strategies for coping with stress. They
may also be suffering from changes brought on by puberty as well as difficulties
related to moving from an elementary school setting to a middle school.
- Schwab-Stone and colleagues believe their
findings have both public policy implications and import for those who
work with youth.
- "Prevention and early intervention
efforts for children growing up in cities should include efforts to facilitate
the capacity of exposed youths to cope with feelings and fears aroused
by exposure to violence in their neighborhoods," the authors write.
- They add that school-based mental health
screening efforts and positive health promotion programs should take into
account "the particular vulnerability of children in the early middle