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Violence exposure and mental health consequences among urban youth


Urban residents are disproportionately affected by violence exposure and mental health consequences as compared to non-urban residents. The present study examined the prevalence of violence exposure and associated mental health consequences among urban and non-urban youth. Urban participants were drawn from Detroit, Michigan, a city that has led the nation for most of the last decade as one of the most violent big cities in the U.S. Participants included 32 Detroit youth and 32 youth recruited from the surrounding non-urban areas, matched on age (M = 10.4 ± 2.8 years) and sex (49% male). Youth completed validated measures of violence exposure, anxiety, and depression symptoms. Urban youth reported more violence exposures than their non-urban counterparts, including hearing gunshots (69% vs. 19%, respectively), witnessing a shooting (24% vs. 6%), and witnessing an arrest (58% vs. 27%). Overall, greater violence exposure was associated with more anxiety symptoms, particularly among urban youth. Although violence exposure was not associated with depressive symptoms overall, urban youth reported significantly higher depressive symptoms than non-urban youth. Exposure to specific violence types, particularly hearing gunshots, was associated with higher anxiety and depressive symptoms among urban but not non-urban youth. Being beat up predicted depressive symptoms among non-urban but not urban youth. Household income and community distress did not predict mental health outcomes. Taken together, urban youth have more exposure to violence, particularly firearm violence, and associated mental health problems than their non-urban counterparts. Targeted community-wide initiatives to prevent violence and identify exposed youth are needed to improve mental health in at-risk communities.

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Data Availability

The datasets analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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The authors would like to thank Jessica Worley for assistance with the creation of Fig. 3.

Code Availability

Not applicable.


This work was funded in part by NIH grant K01MH119241 to HM. All experimental procedures were approved by the local ethics committee, and all participants and their parents/caregivers gave written informed assent and consent.

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All authors made substantial contributions to conception and design, and/or acquisition of data, and/or analysis and interpretation of data; participated in drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content; and gave final approval of the version to be submitted and any revised version.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Breanna A. Borg.

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The local ethics committee approved all experimental procedures.

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All participants and their parents/caregivers gave written informed assent and consent.

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Borg, B.A., Rabinak, C.A. & Marusak, H.A. Violence exposure and mental health consequences among urban youth. Curr Psychol (2021).

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  • Violence
  • Gun violence
  • Urban
  • Mental health
  • Detroit
  • Adolescents