Mental Health and Violence

The relationship between mental health,violence and traumatic events can be complicated and emotionally charged. The aftermath of such experiences may weigh a heavy physical and emotional toll on a variety of people - direct victims, loved ones, rescue workers and even working professionals involved in providing trauma treatment and resources. It’s important to know the risk factors associated with such incidents.

Domestic Violence and Your Mental Health

Domestic violence remains a huge part of our society. In fact, the National Domestic Violence hotline reports that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men report experiencing physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

In general, over 12 million adults experience some form of domestic violence each year.

Exposure to both psychological violence (being threatened, stalked, or tormented) and physical violence resulted in poorer mental health status. Children exposed to domestic violence may experience reduced school performance and developmental delays. Psychological effects can include aggressive behavior, mental health issues, and low self esteem. They may also be more likely to learn and believe that violence is an acceptable way to cope with adverse feelings.

Research from American Addiction Centers shows that a history of domestic violence presents with a higher correlation of substance use disorders, eating disorders, and higher risk to die from suicide.

Many victims of domestic violence have repeated patterns of abusive relationships, and it can be very challenging to break this cycle. It’s important for these individuals to receive both physical and emotional support in their recoveries.

Student Mental Health When Their Safety At School is Threatened

Since 2013, there have been nearly 300 school shootings, averaging at about one per week over the past five years. There’s no doubt that school shootings are devastating, horrific and traumatic for victims, loved ones, and the surrounding community.

The National Center for PTSD found that between witnesses to mass shootings have stress reactions including fear, survivor guilt, difficulty sleeping, and anger.

While everyone responds to trauma differently, very few students interviewed after surviving school shootings reported having no symptoms. After the Columbine shooting in 1999, nearly all students reported feeling numb and then intensely guilty, irritable, or nervous within the subsequent weeks afterward.

The American Psychological Association recommends several coping strategies students can take in the wake of a school shooting.

  • Taking Care of the Physical Self: This refers to eating well-balanced meals, getting plenty of rest, and exercising regularly. It also refers to avoiding mood-altering substances, such as drugs and alcohol, which can suppress feelings. Physical self-care can enhance overall distress tolerance, which is important in the wake of trauma.
  • Talking About It: Students should feel safe to reach out and talk about their feelings with peers and loved ones. Simply talking about shared experiences or concerns can create a sense of community and connectedness.
  • Limiting Media Use: Even though it may feel tempting to stay updated, 24/7 saturation of nonstop news can become draining and actually increase stress levels. Schedule regular breaks to turn it off.
  • Honoring Feelings: School shooting witnesses can experience a vast range of emotions in the subsequent days and weeks after the trauma. It is important to acknowledge that all feelings are okay and normal.
  • Staying Productive: Students can feel more empowered after school shootings by focusing on others and becoming involved in local advocacy or community support.

The Far-Reaching Impact of Terrorism

Within terrorism lies the word terror, and terrorism refers to the use of violence to invoke fear and to compromise the safety and security of people. Acts of terrorism are can result in intense community feelings of helplessness, fear, anger, and depression.

Research shows that individuals who are most directly exposed to terrorist attacks are especially vulnerable to developing PTSD.

September 11, 2011, America’s largest single terrorist attack, impacted tens of thousands of people. These included direct victims, loved ones, rescue workers, colleagues, friends, emergency medical and healthcare providers, and media personnel. Six months after the incident, PTSD rates in New York increased for those directly affected by 9/11. Two years later, up to 201% of employees working in the Pentagon were found to have PTSD.

Terrorism can also seriously impact children and their mental health. A child development study, found that 28% of school children displayed post-traumatic stress reactions after the September 11 attacks.

Today, in our increasingly connected society, it’s easy for people to receive 24/7 instantaneous news all around the world. Technology advances can provide an option for people to watch terrorism unfolding from their smartphones or social media feeds. While research has not yet examined the long-term effects of the relationship between technology and such violence, it is possible that how we understand, cope, and contextualize terrorism will evolve over the years.

Final Thoughts on Violence and Mental Health

As researchers and mental health professionals continue to examine the relationship between violence and mental health, our society will ideally develop more preventative measures and appropriate interventions for helping trauma victims. Continued education and understanding of the short-and long-term psychological implications of violence remain essential for everyone.

Interested in learning more about mental health? Check out our blog series below:

Information on is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult your physician or other qualified professionals with any questions you may have regarding a potential mental health issue.

Last updated: April 2020