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April 13th, 2009
01:20 PM ET

Is economic stress causing violence?

The site of a recent shooting in Binghamton, New York.

The site of a recent shooting in Binghamton, New York.

Dr. Gail Saltz
Psychiatrist
AC360° Contributor

At least 47 people have been killed in this past month due to mass shootings. Hospitals are reporting higher numbers of shaken baby syndrome and injuries from domestic violence. Is there a connection between this recession and the growing numbers of violent crimes?

Job loss and economic desperation leads to anxiety and even depression. It causes many people to live on the edge; to question whether or not their life is worth living and find it difficult to control their hostile and aggressive impulses. In two of the recent shootings, there were indications that the perpetrators may have been affected by a job loss.

Traumatic events, such as a job loss, can tip these people over that edge. Perceived humiliation – like being unable to support a family – can also create feelings of hopelessness. Many folks are finding themselves in this terrible boat with no source of support. They may feel they cannot afford to get help or treatment for their terrible feelings and some may be unable to ask friends or family for help out of shame and anger.

Additionally, there are people struggling with mental illness to begin with, who – because of economic distress - are stopping their treatment or medications. This can cause an illness to worsen and a patient to lose the judgment. Many do not go back for help when they desperately need it the most.

Families are particularly suffering under the weight of the economic crises. Sometimes such stresses help a family to band together to get through and they grow closer in the process. Other times, the constant fear causes more fighting, resentment of the children as burdens, anger at the spouse for failing to support the family, or humiliation at being unable to care for one’s family. All of this can result in self-loathing and rage at everyone around.

Couples who want to divorce are unable to because they can’t afford to. They may be forced to stay under one roof, just to have a roof at all and this can be a true crucible for growing hate and disdain. And, unfortunately, this can be a real recipe for domestic violence. Spouses are at risk and children are particularly at risk as they are the most helpless. Anger tends to roll downhill.

In many of the recent shootings over the past month, there were hints that something terrible was going to happen. The perpetrator often reveals some violent thought or hopeless prediction of the future to someone in their lives. Unfortunately, as so many people are feeling upset now, this threat is not taken seriously and not reported. In many of the cases there was also known access to a gun or guns…also not reported.

Any mention that life is not worth living should be taken seriously. An untrained person cannot assess which person thinking of suicide will go on to do it. Similarly, threats of violence should be reported to authorities, so that a professional can assess the risk involved. If someone you know is sounding hopeless or feels worthless….they are likely depressed. Depression requires treatment. Many hospitals accept Medicaid or provide a sliding scale fee for treatment based on income. Fifteen percent of people with major depression will commit suicide. Many mass murderers have been depressed for some time before the crime. If we all remain observant, take threats seriously and help those who need treatment to get it, we may yet prevent some of these horrendous crimes.

The economic crisis has many disturbing effects, and an increase in violent crime will likely be one of them. It’s time to evaluate what can be done to prevent this before many more innocent victims die.


Filed under: Gail Saltz • Gun Control • Gun Violence
soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. asterisk

    Stress leads to anger and that leads to violence. Its all related and it will get worse if people don't realize times are tough at the moment but we will overcome this situation. The economy was in a down spiral for a long time and it will take time for it to recover. We all need to do the best we can there is help out there for all individuals its knowing where to look for help when times do get worse. But we cannot give up.

    April 14, 2009 at 5:16 am |
  2. Anthony

    The US is becoming more violent mostly due to the politicians making promises to us to get into office. We vote for them, they win and imply their own agendas and not following through with what they say. Another factor to this theory is the way the media covers tragic stories. Talk about violence and you're going to inhabit and promote more violence. For example: Why do a lot of stories start out with: "So and so (number) of casualties found brutally murdered...
    There are other things to talk about than tragedies in the world. Especially hearing of these happenings over and over for days on end.

    April 14, 2009 at 2:42 am |
  3. Isabel Siaba (Brazil)

    This is a serious public health problem that the government must act with urgency, but also that people should help, voluntarily.

    In the US, is there an emergency phone, to listen to people desperate?

    I was a volunteer in social service of this type. The vast majority of people do not like to talk or hear about death or about suicide. The attachment to life is natural in almost everyone. People want to live and have health. The desire of the death of others or your own death, making with the person act in this way is little or no comprehensible to the vast majority of people. And yet, it is important to know the problem of depression, of despair, and of suicide, to help prevent this tragic situation.

    April 14, 2009 at 12:20 am |
  4. Isabel Siaba (Brazil)

    The difficulties of life take the tranquility of the individual, leading to violence. This is a fact.
    This is a serious public health problem that the government must act with urgency, but also that people should help, voluntarily.
    In the US, is there an emergency phone, to listen to people desperate or suicidal?
    I was a volunteer in social service of this type. The vast majority of people do not like to talk or hear about death or about suicide. The attachment to life is natural in almost everyone. People want to live and have health. The desire of the death of others or your own death, making with the person act in this way is little or no comprehensible to the vast majority of people. And yet, it is important to know the problem of depression, of despair, and of suicide, to help prevent this tragic situation.

    April 14, 2009 at 12:13 am |
  5. Paul Ernest Show

    We are going through abnormal times. The economic mess has taken its toll on many Americans and will continue to do so until we are out of it. A lot of people are on the edge. Sometimes, I cannot even think right. Just the amount of debt makes me want to give up and so are many people I encounter everyday. If one is not strong enough, he or she could easily make wrong decisions and engage in criminal activities to survive. People's psychological make-up, presently, is fraught with unstableness and violence could easily be a quick product.

    April 13, 2009 at 6:07 pm |
  6. Eriasu

    Yes i believe that the economy has driven ppl crazy. Alot of people have lost there jobs and havent been able to find a job. To me i think is very frustrating becaue people are trying to get a job where ever they can just to get by. Once someone go from a very high payroll to a low payroll and don't know how to solve there expenses problems they get angry and take it out on others.

    April 13, 2009 at 5:20 pm |
  7. sheasu

    I believe it is indeed a connection between our economic crisis and violence. Every one is depended on money for their wants and needs, so if taken away can cause everyone to shut down their mental stability to act in an violent behavior. These violent incidents are ridiculous; people going around killing other people! We all should be uniting as one to bypass this economic crisis.
    However I agree with Teresa with her statement about "no one wants to help folks until people start dying. All the US seems to respond to is death and losing our money." Before this economic crisis, there was numerous violent incidents, but the US didn't seem to care as long as it didn't make them lose alot of money. However, this is my assumption.

    April 13, 2009 at 4:21 pm |
  8. Sharon S

    I don't agree! I think we have always had these problems just see more of these days thanks to the media! Our so called window to the world!!!

    We have always had the same amount of crime just not all of it was reported and brought to our attention as it has been lately for whatever reason?

    April 13, 2009 at 3:54 pm |
  9. mike gorham

    yes i think the ecnonmic is causing major stress on people, im only 24 years old, i have been laid off for four months i have no type of income im about to be homeless. what are we supposed to do. i dont blame people if they start stealing ,robbing banks, selling drugs etc. what do u want people to do ?

    April 13, 2009 at 3:36 pm |
  10. Melissa

    Of course. Its a well known fact that desperation turns people into animals.

    April 13, 2009 at 2:33 pm |
  11. Teresa, OH

    Money might not buy happiness, but it sure buys about everything else. So if we lose our money, it makes sense that we lose everything that it bought, and those purchases were bought for our happiness and convenience.

    Money buys OPTIONS. No money= no options. These people cant see any way out of their economic and other problems.

    I beg to differ on the last line: " It’s time to evaluate what can be done to prevent this before many more innocent victims die." It was time long ago. No one wants to help folks until people start dying. All the US seems to respond to is death and losing our money.

    April 13, 2009 at 2:27 pm |