Memphis experts say child shootings are taking a toll on children’s mental health

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — As more children fall victim to violence, local experts spoke to WREG about the impact of violence on children and why getting help is crucial.

Since Sunday, at least five children have been the victims of violence, and often, other kids have been the witnesses.

Wanda Keath is a trauma social worker at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital.

“I see it all. I see the gunshot wound injury. I see the motor vehicle injury. I see the bike injuries. I see the assaults of fights. The parent is crying, the family is crying. Everyone, trying to figure out what happened,” said Keath.

At the hospital, they meet the immediate needs, but often, more is required for children who are victims and their families.

“As a social worker, I try to make the child feel as comfortable as he or she can be and let them know that we are here for you. We are here to provide whatever you need in this moment,” Keath said.

We talked with Dr. Catherine Collins, a clinical psychologist from Kindred Place, a family counseling center in Midtown, about the impact of the violence on young minds.

“It has a powerful and prolonged effect on children to be witnesses to violence, to be the targets of violence or even for little ones to repeatedly hear on the news or in their neighborhoods that there have been shootings or killings,” said Collins.

Collins says it effects kids’ adjustment at home, school and in their relationships.

It’s not just witnessing crime. They also deal with the loss of friends.

“They’re continually in a high state of anxiety, and the normal experiences that they learn from and develop in their relationships with others are disrupted, and often for a prolonged period of time,” Collins said.

She says it can result in the child being fearful, anxious and viewing the world as a dangerous. It’s why doctors recommend counseling.

“Kids can compartmentalize, and perhaps not talk about what they’ve seen or witnessed or how they’re feeling. But that doesn’t mean it’s not acting on them,” Collins said. “So we see many children at Kindred Place who are dealing with trauma.”

They also say to watch for behavior changes, sleep impairment and acting out as cues a child may need help.                       

“But I think it’s reasonable to know that if a child witnesses something that you and I even hearing a description of  would find to be traumatic, to have that child talk to a child therapist, to assess what might be helpful for them is a good idea,” said Collins.

If children or families need counseling to deal with violence, they can contact Kindred Place at 901-276-2200.                                             

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