Our connected world has made us more aware of community violence, and sometimes it feels like the world is getting more dangerous.
Statistics show that crime of all kinds in the U.S., including violent crime, showed substantial declines through the early 2020s. However, the homicide rate rose dramatically (34%) between 2019 and 2021. In the City of Philadelphia, homicides rose by 58% during that same period, reaching a record high of 562 in 2021.
Violence is a Public Health Issue
Violence devastates the families and loved ones of its immediate victims, but also sends shockwaves through whole communities. It can affect people’s health in far-reaching ways. It literally keeps people up at night. It can also:
- Cause depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder
- Create chronic stress, raising people’s blood pressure and increasing their risk of a heart attack or stroke
- Lead to unhealthy behaviors like compulsive eating or drinking, smoking, and substance use
- Increase people’s risk of developing chronic health conditions like asthma, high blood pressure, cancer, and stroke
Racial violence has even been shown to raise rates of pre-term births and low birth weight among infants. And when violence targets people just because of who they are, it doesn’t just traumatize the local community. It affects individuals’ mental health on a national scale.
There Are Things We Can Do to Address Violence Together
The causes of community violence are complex, and different communities are impacted in different ways. But there are proven solutions we can all get behind.
For example, cleaning up neighborhoods has been shown to significantly reduce gun violence. Removing trash from vacant lots, and planting grass and trees, not only reduces crime; it also helps relieve depression and anxiety in the community.
If you want to talk to someone about gun safety, but don’t know what to say, here are some tips. And there are organizations that can help you say something anonymously if you’re worried that someone may perpetrate violence or self-harm at a school.
At Independence Blue Cross (Independence), we are part of the Coalition to Save Lives, which aims to address the violence crisis in Philadelphia. It identifies violence prevention programs that work and tries to replicate them here. You can learn more by watching this recent interview with the organization’s Executive Director and reading their report on evidence-based solutions.
We all dream of a world where we never have to worry about our safety, where so many lives are no longer cut short, and vigils and protests aren’t necessary anymore. And we should all be working to make that vision a reality. But as we do that, we must also take care of ourselves.
What Can We Do to Take Care of Ourselves?
1. Draw Strength From Your Community
Resist the urge to withdraw and isolate. Spend time in public spaces where you feel safe. Give comfort, and take comfort, from the people you care about. They may be having the exact same feelings as you do. There is power in voicing your thoughts and emotions, and it’s not healthy to keep them bottled up inside.
2. Limit Your Exposure to Bad News
It’s important to stay informed. But that doesn’t mean you have to stay glued to the news or watch graphic videos. Create boundaries for yourself around consuming news about community violence. When you start getting anxious and angry, give yourself a break. Don’t go back to it until you’ve calmed down.
3. Prioritize Sleep and Exercise
Self-care starts with treating your body right. You need rest in order to cope well. Sleeping can be hard when your mind is racing, but there are things you can try to improve your sleep quality. Exercise is one of them, and it’s also a great stress reliever itself.
4. Practice Relaxation
There are lots of ways to relax besides exercising. Many people get great results from doing yoga and meditating. But relaxing can be as simple as pausing to breathe deeply, listening to music, cooking a meal, taking a walk, or creating something. Whatever works for you, that’s what you should do. For your own well-being.
5. Get Help
There are many resources to help individuals, families, and communities address violence and trauma impacting them, including:
- UpTheBlock, a searchable directory of services for Philadelphians
- 211, a helpline for Pennsylvanians
- Network of Neighbors Responding to Violence, which deploys “trauma responders” to help communities in Philadelphia cope
- The American Psychological Association’s resources for coping with violence
- SAMHSA’s disaster distress helpline: 1-800-985-5990
Don’t Ignore Your Stress
If you’re having panic attacks or chest pains, regularly feel irritable, or are getting worried about your mental or physical health, it’s time to get help. Talk to your doctor and let them help you find the best solutions. Or reach out directly to a therapist.
Independence members can get connected with behavioral health specialists by searching our Provider Finder. They can also call the Mental Health number on the back of their member ID card to speak to someone who can help connect them to care.
Everybody Deserves to Be Safe From Violence
We shouldn’t just accept that community violence will always be part of our lives. As Alice Walker — the first Black woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in Literature for her novel The Color Purple — said, “the most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”
While reducing violence may seem impossible, we can have a safer world if we build it together. And that starts with taking care of ourselves and each other.