More than 20 years ago -- after practicing psychotherapy for over 10 years -- I became certified as an alcohol and substance abuse counselor and was asked to participate in a study regarding the rise in alcohol abuse/addiction during harsh economic times. The findings astounded me then, but they were of no surprise to those who initiated the study. What was discovered was not only a rise in the abuse of alcohol and other substances, but a significant rise in family violence. Then, too, wherever we found an abused woman, there were usually abused children in the same family. All this was not merely an eye opener for me but also, as I was led to see, a no-win situation. The facts were known. The data available. But the very men (and, for the most part, men and not women were the offenders) who were without employment and who could not support their families were the same ones who were most in need of social services that would teach them how to channel their frustration, keep their rage under wraps, and gain skills to protect the women who somehow kept food on their table and birthed their children.
So, the other day when I read an article in HealthDay (a web-based news source)stating that there was a clear rise in head injuries in children since the economic recession which began in 2007, I was no longer shocked, but I did experience, once again, a visceral response.
Reading further, I learned that a research team had looked over the 2004-2009 records of 4 urban children's hospitals and reported on 511 cases of trauma. Dr. Rachel P. Berger (Pediatrician in the Child Advocacy Center at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and the study’s author) stated unequivocally that "the ebb and flow of abusive head trauma cases correlated with economic ups and downs” and concluded that “we know that poverty and stress are clearly related to child abuse.”
The average age of the cases studied and reported was a little over 9 months, although patients ranged from as young as 9 days old to 6.5 years old. Nearly six in 10 patients were male, and about the same proportion were white as those of color.” Overall, 16 percent of the children reportedly died from their injuries.
HealthDay reporter Alan Mozes also noted that this finding “may ultimately touch upon a broader national trend,” and I agree.
Precarious economic times are closely associated with an increased rate of violence, in general, along with abuse within families, including head trauma (often referred to as 'shaken baby syndrome'). According to Dr. Berger: "As the economy tanked, the trend towards an increase in cases was most strongly evidenced in 2 of the 4 hospitals studied,” and she and the other authors of the study concluded that while several factors were operative in their findings, it could not be ignored that "social service cuts and psychological stresses propelled by tough times might ultimately get at the precise underpinnings of the problem."
Jay G Silverman, an associate professor of society and human development and health at the Harvard University School of Public Health in Boston, noted: "Abusive head traumas is one of the most observable indicators of child abuse, because they result from the most extreme domestic violence that requires hospitalization. But there are many, many, many more child abuse cases that we wouldn't expect to show up as traumatic brain injuries in the E.R. So an increase seen in head trauma is probably indicative of an even larger problem. And that means that this finding should really be a major public concern."
The irony is that there have been and unfortunately always will be a segment of the population that is impoverished or living on the edge of poverty, but most have never resorted to violence, especialy toward innocent children. Yet, it is also true that if those who are poor are also predisposed to anger, are un-medicated or self-medicated for depression or anxiety and are furthermore unskilled and uneducated to begin with, the loss of any possible employment will leave these people feeling they have no options other than to act out despite the severity of the consequences. And who suffers the most? Our innocent children.
That is not to say that abuse does not occur among the rich or the rich and famous, or that it is absent from other cultures and religions. The ugly reality that abuse exists is documented every day and not merely now during economically difficult times. The point, however, is that it is clearly more pervasive during times when help is not available to those who could benefit from having it and who cannot afford to pay for it out of pocket.
How can we allow this to continue? Natural disasters and war will inevitably continue to distract us and deflate our spirits and our economy, but we cannot let it also scar the future generation of Americans. Their right to survive (if not thrive) is a God-given right. When harmed by the very adults who are supposed to protect them, when our states and the federal government continue to cut school programs and social service agency personnel, rest assured that the mental health of our nation will not merely be threatened. It will suffer irreparable damage.
Whatever we can do and however loudly we can shout, we must convince the powers that be that focusing on this problem is not a luxury but an absolute necessity. It must be attended to NOW! Do let me know if you agree.
Warm regard to one and all ~ Linda
*Please see amazon.com for reviews of published memoirFOUR ROOMS, UPSTAIRS: A Psychotherapist's Journey Into and Beyond Her Mother's Mental Illness