Washington: Mental health of children is negatively affected by exposure to violence such as mass murders and acts of terror, according to a new study conducted in Juarez, Mexico - once dubbed the murder capital of the world.
Researchers at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Centre El Paso (TTUHSC) found that children who lived in Juarez have high levels of behavioural and emotional problems.
The finding suggests that the mental health of children was negatively affected by exposure to the mass murders and acts of terror, like kidnappings, bombings and decapitations, related to the city's drug violence.
"I am very worried about the children who lived in Juarez when the drug violence peaked a few years ago," said Marie Leiner from TTUHSC who led the study. Researchers compared the mental health of children living in El Paso to that of those living in its neighbouring city Juarez.
The idea was to compare a relatively safe city to one that experienced excessive violence. In 2010, more than 3,000 people were murdered in Juarez, while El Paso recorded just five homicides.
Data was gathered from more than 600 child behavioural checklists (CBCL) that had been filled out by parents in Juarez and El Paso in 2010. The CBCL is a questionnaire used to identify the frequency of behavioural and psychosocial problems in children. Each child was between the age of 18 months and 5 years old and was classified as low-income. After analysing data collected from both groups, researchers found that the prevalence of issues like depression, aggression, anxiety, withdrawal and attention deficit disorder were three times higher in children living in Juarez.
Children in the Mexico group had significantly high scores even when compared to children with brain injuries, hearing impairments and those whose parents abused cocaine, alcohol and other drugs.
"I'm not saying that kids in El Paso are not affected by violence, but they didn't have this exposure to violence everywhere in their neighbourhoods; they didn't attend their family funerals and they didn't go to school to learn that their friends' families were murdered," Leiner said.
"Exposure to violence makes you aggressive. And if you want to reduce aggression, you need to intervene at a very young age," she added. The findings were published in the journal Salud Mental.