Coping with community violence has become more complicated since the onset of COVID-19. There has been a steady increase in mass violence in our country, with data from the CDC showing a 35% increase in gun homicides between 2019 and 2022 alone.1 This increase in mass violence can take a toll on our collective mental health2, 3, which is only compounded by the ever-present effects of COVID-19 and the associated loss of loved ones. Many may fear for their safety, especially as the warmth of the summer months draws us out of our homes and schools into public, community spaces.4 This is especially true for minority communities. Mass gun violence has a disproportionate effect on low-income, minority communities; Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native Americans are more likely to be victims of gun homicide than white Americans. Black individuals experience 20.3 gun deaths per every 100,000 people in the population, while Hispanic and American Indian/Alaska Native groups experience 4 gun deaths for per 100,000 people. Compared to white individuals, who have 1.8-gun deaths per 100,000 people in the population, these differences are startling.5 Unfortunately, these minority groups have also seen the most severe effects of COVID-19. National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month serves as a reminder to ask ourselves: In midst of these many issues that disproportionately affect minority groups, what can be done to care for our mental health, support our loved ones, and keep each other safe?
- Supporting the youth in our communities: There has been an 88 percent increase in gun violence on school grounds in the past 10 years.6 When children are exposed to this kind of violence at a young age, they are at an increased risk of experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder and substance use behaviors7 over the course of their lifetime. Community-based programs can provide useful resources and programs for children and youth to keep them safe and manage the stress of their environments. SAMHSA supports such programs, like Project ReCAST and the National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative, which assists youth and families in the wake of violence, civil unrest, and other traumatic stress issues by connecting them to trauma-informed behavioral health services.
Additionally, through the National Network to Eliminate Disparities in Behavioral Health (NNED), SAMHSA supports Preventing Long-term Anger and Aggression in Youth (PLAAY), Familia Adelante, and Project Venture – three programs aimed to support youth experiencing behavioral health challenges by training community organizations in methods related to violence prevention and youth mental health.
- Find healthy coping mechanisms: In hard times, it is important to engage in healthy coping mechanisms. It may feel easier to lean on certain substances to deal with the grief or anger that comes with violence and loss. However, substance use is a coping mechanism that increases the risk of negative health behaviors and outcomes in the future.8 Healthy coping methods may include becoming more involved with your communities and learning about ways to connect with local resources and services. Strong social support networks not only foster collective healing but can also increase healthy behaviors in the long term, especially for minority youth and adults.9,10,11 Communities are particularly important for minority individuals because their shared cultural experiences can offer great strength. Leaning on those with shared experiences, culture, or faith during these tough times can be critical for navigating the compounding stresses of the last few years. Furthermore, limiting certain forms of digital social media consumption and processing feelings with loved ones are other good ways to work through overwhelming feelings of loss. To access more culturally specific resources for minority individuals and communities of color visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness Identity and Cultural Dimensions resources.
- Take advantage of behavioral health services: For the feelings we can’t talk through with our loved ones, it is beneficial to seek out additional resources to protect our mental health. SAMHSA has a searchable database of behavioral health services that can be used to locate support throughout the country. Additional assistance can often be found through Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). Check to see if your employer offers EAP services and, if so, consider accessing those services when possible. For more urgent mental health struggles, the Disaster Distress Helpline and the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline are both 24/7 resources. Engaging with mental health services can seem daunting at times, but it can provide us with the tools necessary to navigate the struggles we face individually and as a community. We recognize minority youth and adults often face unique barriers when using behavioral health services, including stigma and bias. When seeking care, it may be helpful to gauge a provider’s sense of cultural competence and awareness to ensure you receive the best support possible. Behavioral health providers anticipate that they will receive questions from potential clients and are prepared to answer them. Questions you may ask include: Have you treated others with my racial or ethnic background? Have you received training on culturally competent care? Do you use a different approach for clients from various cultural backgrounds?12 These questions may help you identify whether a particular behavioral health service or provider is the right fit for you.
While dealing with violence can be challenging, we can find resilience in our communities and work together to keep each other safe. Please see the following resources for additional guidance.
3 Psychological Impact of Mass Violence. (2017). The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Retrieved 2022, from https://www.nctsn.org/resources/psychological-impact-mass-violence.
4 Kwon, R., Cabrera, J.F. Income inequality and mass shootings in the United States. BMC Public Health 19, 1147 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-019-7490-x
7 Finkelhor, D., Turner, H.A., Ormrod, R.K., Hamby, S., & Kracke, K. (2009). Children’s Exposure to Violence: A Comprehensive National Survey.
8 Stahl, S.T., & Schulz, R. (2014). Changes in routine health behaviors following late-life bereavement: a systematic review. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 37(4), 736-755.
10 Hull, P., Kilbourne, B., Reece, M., Husaini, B. (2008). Community involvement and adolescent mental health: Moderating effects of race/ethnicity and neighborhood disadvantage. Journal of Community Psychology (36)4.
11 Berger Cardoso, J., Thompson S. (2018). Common themes of resilience among Latino immigrant families: A systematic review of the literature. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services