How a secure network of family, friends, and neighbors can stop tragedy before it starts.
It’s official: gun violence is a national public health issue recognized by the American Public Health Association as a preventable ailment that needs to be more effectively addressed on a large scale. Although the perpetrators of mass shootings and other forms of gun violence seem to act independently, they are in fact part of a larger network of family, friends, and neighbors who are all interconnected. Together, they form a safe and secure community of people who take on different roles. The more we can be aware of people’s mental and emotional health as reflective of their role in a larger community, the easier it will be to educate the public on the importance of mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness to the prevention of needless violence and death.
Much of the gun violence that takes place doesn’t occur in the form of mass shootings or random homicides; rather, it takes place in the form of domestic violence or suicide that affects a community and is tied to pre-existing issues within that community. There are many violent confrontations that can potentially be prevented by the intervention of a social worker or counselor. Oftentimes, community practice increases the quality of life—especially for traditionally marginalized and vulnerable populations. One example of a successful community building model is set forth by The Peace Alliance, which puts a number of proactive measures into place, including “hands-on street outreach and intervention, mental health services, out-of-school programs, police/community relations, and arts-based practices.” The idea is to prevent violence before it starts.
This sort of proactive, comprehensive solution to violence prevention may appeal to those interested in being a public health nurse. Some of the duties of a community health nurse include public education, which can include education about issues like domestic violence or drug and alcohol abuse—anything that can be connected to public health. It’s interesting to note the extent to which community, neighborhood, and family health and well-being affect the health of individuals within that community. It’s almost as if community nurses play several different roles, because of this interconnectedness: social worker, counselor, educator, and health care practitioner.
One source of violence that may seem relatively unexpected is intimate partner or domestic violence: twenty-nine percent of women and nearly ten percent of men in the United States have experienced intimate partner violence. In other words, it’s much more common than you might expect. This kind of violence includes not only physical or sexual violence, but also threats of physical or sexual violence and emotional abuse by a current or former spouse or non-marital partner. Contrary to traditional depictions of attacks perpetrated by strangers in dark alleys, gun violence can begin unexpectedly, often with someone we know.
In a recent Guardian op-ed, Georges Benjamin argues that we need to treat the gun violence epidemic in a similar way to an infectious disease outbreak: “We should track it, find the root causes, use science to find research gaps, create policy solutions and use mass public education campaigns to eradicate the threat.” The piece ends with the warning that health epidemics can be reversed, but only with a science-based approach—such as was done with Ebola and automobile crashes—rather than a political reaction.
It seems that a problem that kills an average ninety people a day in the United States should rightfully be declared a public health concern of epic proportions—perhaps insofar as it is decreed to have caused a national state of emergency. Even if we don’t agree to declare such a thing as a nation, it seems that it would be wise to at least implement sensible preventative measures in order to avoid unnecessary gun violence in the future. As soon as more of us agree upon what’s considered ‘sensible,’ we’ll be off to a great start.
A large number of mental health and social work professionals agree on a few sensible components, at least. The “Cure Violence Health Model,” for example, aims to detect and interrupt potentially violent conflicts, identify and treat the highest risk situations, and mobilize the community to change what is considered normal. This is done in order to potentially subvert a dominant paradigm of violence and transform the community into a safer, more proactive environment that prevents fun violence before it has a chance to begin. Strengthening opportunities to pursue quality education and career tracks will go a long way toward ensuring that inequality and lack of understanding are kept at a minimum. The safer people feel within their neighborhoods and communities, the higher the chance that peace will prevail.
Photo credit: Getty Images