Violence as a Health Issue

Why should the health sector be involved in violence prevention? Because violence negatively affects the health of victims as well as those who witness violence; it acts like an epidemic disease; and it can be effectively prevented using health methods.

Negative Health Effects from Violence

The magnitude of violence – in terms of the number of victims – makes it a serious health issue. But the effects of violence also ripple through a community, causing trauma to those who witness it or live in fear of it.

1. Direct Effects – physical injury to the victim of violence

Violence is a health issue because it directly affects the health of its victims. In fact, it’s such a direct health problem that:

  • It’s the #1 cause of death for African-American and Latino males aged 15-24
  • In many cities, violence is the #1 cause of death for all people under the age of 34
  • Since 1960, more than 1 million people have died in the United States from intentional violence

2. Indirect Effects – mental trauma and behavioral effects

Violence is also a health issue because of the many indirect effects. Merely being exposed to violence has been linked to:

  • Chronic disease (heart disease, asthma, stroke, cancer, and more)
  • Mental health problems (PTSD, stress, anxiety, depression, and more)
  • Lower quality of life
  • Increased risk of perpetrating violence

Violence as an Epidemic Disease

Mental trauma from exposure to violence has been scientifically shown to increase a person’s risk of adopting violent behavior themselves, meaning that violent behavior transmits and spreads based on exposure – just like an epidemic disease. Hundreds of scientific studies have shown that violence operates like an epidemic disease [link to resources]. Collectively, these studies have conclusively shown that violence displays all of the characteristics of an epidemic disease.

There are really only three characteristics of an epidemic disease – Clustering, Spread, and Transmission.  Violence exhibits all three of these characteristics.

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Health as the Solution

Using a health approach offers the most effective method for effectively preventing violence and treating those at risk for violence. Much of what needs to be done has to do with identifying and treating those at risk for violent behavior, much like health professionals identify and treat those at risk for disease.

First, we must adopt epidemic control methods in places with epidemics of violence. These communities have been devastated for too long and health methods have been proven effective and can offer a needed compliment to existing efforts. There also must be a response more broadly from the health sector. Violence is a behavior and the health sector is the sector that always deals with changing behaviors – from smoking to eating to exercise to sex. The expertise of the health sector is needed to effectively treat this problem.

Learn about the epidemic control model for violence prevention

Learn about health related roles for others in preventing violence

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