Article

Journal of Urban Health

, Volume 85, Issue 1, pp 22-38

First online:

Witnessing Community Violence in Residential Neighborhoods: A Mental Health Hazard for Urban Women

  • Cheryl ClarkAffiliated withDivision of General Medicine and Primary Care, Center for Community Health and Health Equity, Brigham and Women’s Hospital Email author 
  • , Louise RyanAffiliated withDepartment of Biostatistics, Harvard School of Public Health
  • , Ichiro KawachiAffiliated withDepartment of Society, Human Development and Health, Harvard School of Public Health
  • , Marina J. CannerAffiliated withChanning Laboratory, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School
  • , Lisa BerkmanAffiliated withDepartment of Society, Human Development and Health, Harvard School of Public Health
  • , Rosalind J. WrightAffiliated withDepartment of Society, Human Development and Health, Harvard School of Public HealthChanning Laboratory, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School

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Abstract

We examined the prevalence and psychological correlates of witnessing community violence among women of low socioeconomic status living in urban neighborhoods in the northeastern United States. Three hundred eighty-six women receiving their health care at an urban community health center were sampled to assess their violence exposures. Women were asked to report the location and timing of their exposure to witnessing violent neighborhood events in which they were not participants. The Brief Symptoms Inventory was used to assess anxiety and depressive symptoms. Controlling for marital status, educational attainment, age, and intimate partner violence victimization, women who witnessed violent acts in their neighborhoods were twice as likely to experience depressive and anxiety symptoms compared to women who did not witness community violence. Central American-born women had particularly high exposures. We conclude that witnessing neighborhood violence is a pervasive experience in this urban cohort, and is associated with anxiety and depressive symptoms, even among women who are not direct participants in violence to which they are exposed. Community violence interventions must incorporate efforts to protect the mental health of adult women who witness events in their neighborhoods.

Keywords

Neighborhood violence Women’s health Neighborhood effects on health