The long-term effects of violence revealed

Young people exposed to violence in the community may experience long-term negative health consequences as a result. This is the suggestion of new research from Penn State and University College London, which found children who witnessed such behaviour still demonstrated a physical stress response for around 12 months after the incident.

Elizabeth Susman, Jean Phillips Shibley Professor of Biobehavioural Health at Penn State, noted most studies into the effect of violence are centred on the short-term, with connections to depression, aggression and post-traumatic stress symptoms well established.

Professor Susman stated: "Our data show that the stress reaction to violence exposure is not just immediate. There's an effect that endures."

Published in the Journal of Adolescent Health and supported by the National Institute of Mental Health and the General Clinical Research Center of the National Institutes of Health, the research showed that females may react to stressful scenarios by conversing about them with others - an approach the authors noted could help people better deal with any remaining issues.

Dr Lynne Jordan, Chartered Psychologist, comments:

"'Is this conclusion a surprise to those of us who work in trauma services in child/adult protection services that long term general health maybe compromised through being exposed to violence in the community?

"After all, we know that anything which compromises our sense of fundamental trust and safety in the world is likely to stimulate stress responses in the short term and in some become chronic states of anxiety and depression in the long term. We also know that stress compromises the immune system and has been known to correlate in some to auto-immune diseases such as arthritis and cardio vascular diseases. 

"Perhaps we need to be clear how much violence could trigger this effect as sustained fear is more likely to mutate to a state of mind where hyper vigilance is the norm and living in terror a familiar way of life. Of course we have defence mechanisms which can mediate against the effects of this with the strongest protective factors being a good enough attachment figure and a well developed reflective capacity as one of the domains of secure attachment, according to Jeremy Holmes. This links with the current findings that talking helps and allows for a degree of processing of the violence and/or terrifying experiences. This can be, of course far more complex when it is a way of life as a part of the community and which is therefore thought of as a norm even if casing great unhappiness."