Hidden Costs: Gun violence, mental health and financial stress – WHYY

At the center of Philadelphia’s rapid rise in gun violence is the issue of mental health, and the costs connected to it. According to a report issued by the Anti-Violence Partnership of Philadelphia, the medical costs for people battling post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, are three times higher than those who don’t have that overriding condition. Direct medical costs connected to untreated trauma range from $500-$20,000 per person and the indirect costs average $5,000 annually, the report said.

Movita Johnson-Harrell, founder of the non-profit The Charles Foundation, was diagnosed with PTSD when she was 9 years old after the deaths of her father and brother to gun violence. She later lost her cousin, and her 2 sons, Charles and Dante.

“When you’re a child dealing with the loss of a loved one and therapeutic help is hard to find, you become an adult that works out that trauma at the barrel of a gun,” Johnson-Harrell said.

“Our children are traumatized,” Johnson-Harrell said. “When I speak to first-grade classes in the ‘hood,’ I ask these kids how many of them have heard a gunshot, and all of their hands go up. Ninety percent know someone who has been shot. The kids can’t wait to get my attention so that they can talk to me about their trauma. They can tell you what kind of gun it is based on the sound. Yet, when these shootings are covered on television, all you get is a blurb. There’s a minimum of concern and our communities becoming desensitized as a coping mechanism. Seeing shooting scenes and homicide scenes on a daily basis takes a toll on the community’s psyche.”

Thanks to a $155 million allocation the City of Philadelphia put in the fiscal year budget for 2022 to take on the city’s gun violence problem, $22 million has been set aside to assist groups that are working with the community.

These grants will cover a number of things, including implementing trauma-informed programs for people who have been victimized by gun violence. These grants, which will range from $50,000 to $1 million, will lend financial support to organizations that provide such services as counseling, violence prevention, and assistance to families trying to get through the maze many people have to navigate to access victims’ assistance.

Johnson-Harrell is hoping the organizations that work with her in the victim’s assistance sector get the money they need, but she would rather see the money go to programs that stop people from becoming victims in the first place.

“We need to stop creating more victim’s services and instead create fewer victims,” she said. “We’re losing our children to either the graveyard or the prison. If we focus on intervention or prevention, we won’t lose them to either.”

At a time when families are battling the latest mutation of the COVID-19 virus, the stress and anxiety of seeing loved ones lost to gun violence while managing the obvious, and not so obvious costs involved are challenging.

Some, like Johnson-Harrell and Kamara, were prepared. When Charles was shot and killed in 2011, Johnson-Harrell had health insurance to cover the costs incurred when doctors tried to save his life and had pre-paid funeral services at the ready. Kamara also had private insurance to cover burial costs and, because Naim was an organ donor, paid nothing for his hospital care, she said.

But when she started the foundation named for her son, Johnson-Harrell did so because her neighbors referred others to her for help that sometimes included paying for funerals and Janazahs*.

“In most instances, families are not prepared for the burden of the expense of [funeralizing] or the expense of taking care of a person who has been shot and is now handicapped,” Johnson said. “If you have no money, because victims’ compensation is so limited, you have to figure out how to pay for funerals yourself. It becomes a huge burden on families.”

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