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Women Who Witness Acts of Violence in their Neighborhoods are Twice as Likely to Experience Depression and Anxiety, New Academy Study Finds

NEW YORK CITY, Dec. 18???An important new study in the Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of The New York Academy of Medicine finds that women who are exposed to violence in their neighborhoods are twice as likely to experience depression and anxiety.

Community violence is one of the leading mental health hazards in urban neighborhoods. There are well-documented effects on psychological functioning among urban youth, but few studies have looked into the effects of community violence exposure on adult urban women.

“In urban populations, depressive and anxiety symptoms in particular are prevalent causes of ambulatory care visits and one of the leading causes of lost work days and poor functioning among adults,” said Cheryl Clark, MD, lead author of the study and doctor of internal medicine with the Division of General Medicine and Primary Care at the Center for Community Health and Health Equity, Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts.

The study found that 52 percent of women who participated in the study had witnessed someone being shoved, kicked or punched, 46 percent heard gunshots, 10 percent witnessed knife attacks and 8 percent saw someone shot. The most significant population of women who showed a strong correlation between witnessing violent acts in their neighborhood and experiencing depression and anxiety, were Latina and white adult women. In addition to this finding, it was also found that among Latinas, witnessing violence in other locations besides their neighborhood was associated with a six fold increase in odds of experiencing depressive symptoms.

Central American-born women had the highest lifetime prevalence of exposure to violence and most commonly reported hearing gunshots compared to U.S.-born women, while U.S.-born women were more likely to be exposed to shoving, kicking, or punching.

Entitled, “Witnessing Community Violence in Residential Neighborhoods: A Mental Health Hazard for Urban Women,” the study is based on information gathered from participants recruited from a longitudinal cohort of mother-child pairs enrolled in a study of the effect of prenatal smoking on respiratory disorders in infants and children. One thousand women were recruited for the study, 500 continued contact with researchers, 386 participated in the violence assessment interviews.

“Public health practitioners and clinicians alike must develop mental health interventions for adult women who witness community violence, a group whose outcomes are rarely considered in studies of community violence. Research linking maternal moods with mental health of their children and adolescents underscores the importance of intervening to preserve the mental health of women who witness community violence,” said Clark.

About the Journal of Urban Health
The Journal of Urban Health is a bimonthly peer-reviewed publication of The New York Academy of Medicine and focuses on the emerging fields of urban health and epidemiology. The Journal addresses health issues such as substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, HIV, tuberculosis, and violence from both clinical and policy perspectives, filling a neglected niche in medical and health literature. Published since 1847, the Journal is edited by David Vlahov, PhD, RN, Director of the Academy’s Center for Urban Epidemiologic Studies and Senior Vice President for Research.

About The New York Academy of Medicine
Founded in 1847, The New York Academy of Medicine is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit institution whose mission is to enhance the health of the public. Our research, education, community engagement, and evidence-based advocacy seek to improve the health of people living in cities, especially disadvantaged and vulnerable populations. The impact of these initiatives reaches into neighborhoods in New York City, across the country, and around the world. We work with community based organizations, academic institutions, corporations, the media, and government to catalyze and contribute to changes that promote health. Visit us online at

-by Sarah Rathsam

Posted on December 21, 2007

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