Violence has complex, far-reaching impacts on health


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The effects of violence are interrelated and can traumatize individuals and communities, the researchers wrote.

A new paper by UW Medicine researchers offers a broad, updated look at the interrelated impacts of violence on physical and mental health across age groups, from infants to elderly people.

The authors compiled recent compelling findings about health effects of child abuse, bullying, youth violence, adult interpersonal violence, and elder abuse, among others. The paper was published Oct. 7 in Health Affairs. Its authors represent the Firearm Injury & Policy Research Program, based at the Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center.

“Violence has important consequences for physical and mental health. These consequences vary with the type of violence and age, but all of them can be severe, debilitating and lifelong,” said Dr. Fred Rivara, the paper’s lead author. He is a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine and adjunct professor of epidemiology at the UW School of Public Health.

“The findings of our review point out the need to both treat the victims of violence and prevent these types of violence from occurring in the first place,” Rivara said.

By organizing their findings by age group, the authors highlighted the cumulative, interrelated harms of violence across the lifespan. For example, research has found that victims of child abuse have an elevated risk of depression, suicidality, drug use, and certain chronic illnesses later in life. Because of that risk, they are also more likely to later experience intimate partner violence, which in turn heightens risk of depression, anxiety, asthma, gastrointestinal disorders, chronic pain, and other health issues.

An overview of many types of violence also helps broaden research and policy perspectives beyond the immediate physical trauma, and draws attention to long-term health impacts. These harms affect not only individuals, but also indirectly traumatize family, friends, and communities.

“The mental and physical effects of different types of violence have been studied for decades, and it’s crucial that we put these pieces together to understand the larger whole,” said firearm program research scientist Brianna Mills, a co-author on the paper and an alumna of the School of Public Health. “Violence doesn’t occur in isolation, and our work emphasizes the importance of understanding the complex causes and repercussions.”

Mills will present the team’s findings on Thursday, Oct. 10, in Washington, D.C., as part of a national briefing hosted by Health Affairs on violence and health.

In May, the State of Washington awarded $1 million to the UW School of Medicine for the formation of the Firearm Injury & Policy Research Program. The program seeks to answer urgent questions involving firearm risks, injuries, policies and programs in Washington state.

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