"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

'It's a deep emotional ride' – 12 young people in Philly's hardest neighborhoods share how violence affects their physical and mental health.

In 2023, 410 people were killed. in philadelphia – More than a quarter Among them below 25 years of age. In addition to those that died, countless others lost family members and people they relied on.

Like Social scientist As someone who studies different types of violence and the way it affects an individual's health, I do know that youth in Philadelphia experience violence. It's about more than shootings, murders and physical injuries.. Social science recognizes many differing kinds of violence beyond the physical – for instance, poverty, racism and Negative interactions with the police.

Furthermore, violence can harm one's health even when the person is unaware of it. For example, I once interviewed a young man in West Philadelphia and took his heart rate. His heart rate suddenly jumped from 51 beats per minute to 116 when gunfire rang out outside his bedroom window. He heard the gunshot, but it surely didn't trouble him. He felt himself stiffen from the violence in front of his door, and he was surprised to search out that his body had reacted so strongly.

To higher understand the connection between types of violence and their effects, I conducted an ethnographic study by which 12 youths aged 16 to 21 years. who lived in various Philadelphia neighborhoods where violence is common. These included Kensington, Northeast, Germantown, Cobbs Creek and Belmont. The study ran from 2016 to 2018 and was recently published in a peer-reviewed journal Journal of Adolescent Research. The names utilized in this text are pseudonyms to guard the identity of the young individuals who contributed to my research.

I spent a month with each youth. I accompanied them to their neighborhoods, interviewed them about their family history and measured their heart rates as they went about their days. They wore wrist health monitors and carried separate GPS trackers for 4 days. At the top of every day, I sat down with them and reviewed their heart rate data and where they went.

I learned that where a teenager lives, the social messages they absorb and the several types of violence they experience can have a profound effect on their physical and mental health.

'No shade, no trees, no big park'

The youth I worked with saw the dearth of investment of their neighborhoods as an indication that those in power didn’t care about them, their families, or their communities. They talked. Closure of public schoolsthe Limited access to libraries and lack of trees or green space. Walking with me through his Cobbs Creek neighborhood, Desmond, 21, said, “Who would want to live here? There's no shade, no trees, no big park.”

They also saw how gentrification – the act of rich individuals and investment displacing local businesses and residents – was changing their neighborhoods. Kalia, who lived her life in “little Puerto Rico,” as she calls her Kensington neighborhood, told me how she felt about wealthy people moving in.

“Remember how I was saying that we're loud, and we're all close together, we're all moving around and stuff? And they're not. They're quiet, and they've got their whole selves. There's money, you know?” she said. “So I think they're not just trying to change the neighborhood, they're just trying to change the way people live.”

A vibrant Latino business corridor runs through North Philadelphia's Fairhill neighborhood, adjoining to Kensington.
Jeff Fusco / The Conversation US, CC BY-NC-ND

'I can't blame them though'

Working with the five young black men within the study, I learned how their every day interactions with the police affected their self-esteem. They shared experiences of police beating them against a wall, taking food out of their hands, refusing to consider that they had no criminal record or being chased out of parks.

Sharing these interactions, it was clear that lots of the youth had internalized. Incorrect messages from society and culture that black men commit more crimes and act more aggressively than white men; Kareem, from West Philadelphia, summed up his thoughts on it this manner: “If you were a criminal, perhaps they might treat you a certain way. But because almost every black person is involved in almost every little thing. has been, so that they think we’re all guilty, although I cannot blame them.

Future, who hails from Southwest Philly, had a very tense conversation with police and got here into the interview feeling, he said, “hyped up.” When police approached, his heart rate had increased from 60 to 106 beats per minute after which to 130 bpm inside 10 minutes. It stayed high for half-hour.

On his technique to our interview, Future told me, he stopped to spend the last of his money on a breakfast sandwich and occasional. A short while later, a police officer snatched the sandwich from his hand, pushed him against a wall and handcuffed him. “They thought I had dope and weed and pills on me, and then I'm like, 'I got nothing,'” she said. They asked him for his ID, to which he replied, “Why did you handcuff me?” Then they threatened to bring him to the station.

“Listen, I'm obedient,” Future told the officers, explaining that he was on probation. After police “threw” him behind the automobile, he said, a neighbor began filming the incident and asked police what they were doing. The younger cop reached for his gun while his partner “tried to rat me on my hood,” Future said.

It seemed that the aim of the police encounter was to get information concerning the happenings within the neighborhood. The young people I spoke with said they often had similar experiences.

A new development with row houses has been built in the Belmont neighborhood of West Philadelphia.
A brand new constructing goes up in West Philadelphia's Belmont neighborhood.
Jeff Fusco / The Conversation US, CC BY-NC-ND

'It's a deeply emotional ride'

Whether it's through police brutality, the kid welfare system, homelessness, or experiencing past trauma, each of the youth I work with has experienced personal impacts. Structured And Symbolic violence in alternative ways. Sometimes this was reflected of their mental health, manifested by eating disorders, severe anxiety or depression.

Connor, a young black man living in Belmont, suffered from severe anxiety that at times prevented him from leaving his home. On public transit, his heart rate would soar, sometimes reaching 150 BPM, because he was anxious about fights on the bus. He went to the gym late at night to avoid fights, and he talked concerning the friends he'd lost to gun violence. About how he feels concerning the losses, he said, “It's a deep emotional ride, but I mean, the majority of us, people of color, we're used to things like this. “

For others, their physical health also suffered. For example, one young woman had witnessed severe violence in her home as a baby and had been involved within the child welfare system as a baby and as a mother. She was battling hypertension, severe headaches, obesity and anxiety. She laments that caregiving is just out of reach, especially for her mental health. Whenever she began contacting a therapist, she said, either the middle would close or the therapist would go away.

This is evident from research. Childhood trauma Leads to higher rates of early disease and health problems comparable to cardiovascular disorders. But it was surprising to see that these symptoms start in people who find themselves of their teens.

A view from above looking down on a bustling urban corridor in Kensington, a high-poverty neighborhood in Philadelphia.
A view of the elevated train tracks on the corner of Kensington and Allegheny avenues in North Philadelphia.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Comprehensive interventions.

Society typically tries to scale back violence by correcting individual behavior—using metal detectors to stop weapons, for instance, or mentoring those deemed in danger for violence. Creating a program.

I consider a more comprehensive approach will lead. Libraries, parks and community centers Promoting education, physical activity and social cohesion For children in high-poverty neighborhoods. Connecting people to jobs that pay wages, help them maintain a great lifestyle and Increase their self-esteem.. Investing in quality mental health services in neighborhoods that lack them can provide them to young people. They need professional help. To process their environment and what is going on around them.

In short, recognizing that violence is available in many forms, and requires multiple levels of intervention, could make a world of difference.