Experts concerned about long-lasting trauma from kids witnessing violent crime in the Capital City

Published: Jul. 13, 2021 at 8:50 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - A 3 On Your Side analysis of gun violence in the Capital City reveals one in five people injured or killed this year were eighteen or younger, according to individual reports provided by the city’s police department.

As of July 13, at least 119 people have been hurt or killed from shootings, according to that analysis.

Experts say those statistics demonstrate the need for greater mental health outreach efforts to address the lasting impact that crime has on Jackson’s most precious resource: its children.

“If a child does not feel safe in their own living environment because of the increase in violence that’s around them, that’s going to have repercussions for years to come and possibly generationally, if we can’t intervene quickly enough,” said Kyle Roberts, chief marketing officer for the Center for Children and Families.

Roberts, who also worked for years as a therapist for the organization, said those violent acts can lead to future violent acts because some kids who witness it end up being desensitized to it, seeing violence as a way to solve problems.

Parents may not even realize it, either, thinking their kids can tough it out as they get older.

“Chronologically you grow up, but psychologically, you’re going to be shattered. You’re not going to be stronger, psychologically. You’re going to be weaker,” said Nanolla Yazdani, assistant professor of counseling, rehabilitation and psychometric services at Jackson State University. “Because the issue of the safety, security and belonging plays a very important role when any organism starts being exposed to a traumatic situation, particularly the younger they are, the less experienced, they have to develop some kind of a healthy coping mechanism.”

Yazdani, also a trained school psychologist, said the current spike in Jackson’s homicides points to the same fundamental issues.

“One of the reasons, you know, the violence takes place is those individual were exposed to some form of a traumatic violence themselves during childhood,” Yazdani said. “The problem is a little is like, you know, a little hole in the wall [with] water behind it. You patch it in, fine. If you don’t, it gets cracked and gets bigger and bigger and bigger.”

That pause in development that comes from trauma almost always leads to personality disorders if they’re not addressed, Yazdani said.

Roberts said parents should take certain actions to make sure their children aren’t at risk, like making sure they know who their kids’ friends are and where they hang out.

Parents should also see if their kids’ grades start slipping or if they withdraw from conversation.

Most importantly, Roberts said, take time to listen to them.

“If children felt secure and loved at home, they’re far less likely to go out to their peer group for that support, they’re far less likely to go to that to that other teenager that might be exhibiting problematic behavior, because they just want a sense of belonging,” Roberts said. “As human beings, we all are desperate for that.”

Roberts said families that qualify for counseling from his organization will pay nothing out-of-pocket.

Though based in Louisiana, the Center for Children and Families serves seven counties in Mississippi, including Hinds, Madison and Rankin.

“There’s no need for them to come up with our own resources other than just giving the time and the presence for our therapists to come in and do the work,” Roberts said.

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