View Full Version : Why Focusing on Mental Health Might Be Key to Decreasing Violence

The Informer
24th August 2012, 06:13 PM
So, yesterday morning, I was listening to a local, black news radio station. This particular program was discussing a weekend shooting, which happened outside of a popular specialty hamburger restaurant here in Philly. According to news reports the shooting was the result of an altercation, which began between two tables outside of the eatery. The altercation eventually spilled over to a side street, where one of the guys shot the other guy he was arguing with. The shooting victim would die later at the hospital.

As Iím writing this, there have been 162 murders in Philadelphia. That number might have increased by the time you finish reading this post. As sad as that is, the senseless violence on the streets of Philadelphia has been showing up in major, and minor, cities across the country. In Chicago, a city which has been suffering through double digit shootings over the last few months, the number of Chicagoans murdered in the last decade is two and a half times the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan. And in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the homicide rate there exceeds the rates in New York, Los Angeles and Washington D.C.

It should come as no surprise that handguns are the weapons of choice in most of these murders. Many folks believe our easy access to guns, is responsible for the high murder rate in the country, particularly our community. Even the host of the radio program I was listening to theorized that guns make cowards fearless and most folks nowadays are scared of a fair one-on-one fist fight. All of those might be suitable responses however none of that really addresses the root cause of why people feel the need to resort to violence Ė be it with a gun or a fist fight Ė in the first place?

Later on in the day, I read an article in the Huffington Post about how meditation has been proven an effective treatment in lowering blood pressure among black teens. According to a group of researchers from Georgia Health Sciences University, in a study of 62 black teens with high blood pressure, those who mediated for twice a day had managed to lower left ventricular mass, thus reducing the chances of heart attacks and strokes later in life. So what does this have to do with the murder rate?

Homicide and suicide are the second and third leading causes of death, respectively, among teens ages 15 to 19, The common belief is that most homicides are over drugs or involve gang violence however the reality is that there are a lot of hotheads out there ready to pull the trigger and take someoneís life over the most mundane reasons. We read too many stories of people dying over parking spaces and other domestic disputes than we do about folks dying over gang colors.

And that got me thinking about how so much of our existence centers around insecurity, which contributes to stress. Iím not talking about insecurity in the most vain sense of the word but the insecurity that comes from living in a situation of uncertainty. In the 2008 PBS four hour long documentary, Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?, the role that social determinants such as class and race was proven to have a greater impact on oneís health outcomes than genetics or personal behavior. According to the film poor people are often subjected to a poverty tax, which basically means that they must pay more for goods and services (including rent, food, transportation and taxes), have lower access to parks and recreation centers and are constantly living in fear of both violence and their shaky financial situation.

And letís not forget about the impact that the persistence of racism has on the minds and spirits of black men, women and children? It has been proven that there is a clear association between experiences of racism and psychological distress for black folks. Taking all of this evidence combined, it would seem that both poverty and racism not only adversely affect oneís own mental health but also can also shorten oneís life through heart attacks, strokes and yes, even violence. In short, what we are probably seeing across the country is a collective mental breakdown among folks, who just canít deal anymore.

Of course, the short answer to ending violence is a consorted effort to ending racism and poverty. However, this is America: the land of exploitation and indifference. And even folks, who genuinely care about doing one or the other Ė or even both Ė find themselves spitting into the wind, so to speak. While many of us know how to survive, very few know the key to learning to deal with what is the reality of our constant situation. Iím not saying that we have to accept our fate as eternal subjugated people, but we do need to learn how to mentally work around poverty and racism so that we, as a community, can be strong enough to not only fight against the trappings of racism and poverty but also ensure that it doesnít kill us Ė or worse cause us to kill somebody else.

Folks have to take care of their mental health as seriously as they do dieting and exercising. Some thing as simple as sitting quietly for 15 minutes and meditating, twice a day, could go a long way in giving yourself the clarity needed to deal with whatever situation crosses your path.

The best thing about mediating is that there is no one correct way to do it. I did a traditional, legs cross, eyes closed and palms to the sky meditation sit-in before. It wasnít my thing plus my legs got numb after the first ten minutes. So once a week, take a walk, preferably outside of the neighborhood. There is also yoga, tai chi and chanting. Heck, go to a park and engage in walking mediation, which teaches how to tune out the distractions and tune in to your inner self in a real life situation. I donít know if it will cure all violence in the community but in the spirit of my favorite song by Talib Kweli, folks got to start questioning what it is they do to Get By.

Source: madamenoire