Skip to main content.

Violence on the rise: its impact on mental well-being

Violence on the rise: its impact on mental well-being

Picture of Ana Ibarra
Violent environments can create toxic stress for residents
Photo courtesy of Flickr: European Parliament/Pietro Naj-Oleari

When I moved to the city of Merced almost a year ago, I was advised to find an apartment in the north side of the city—areas south of the train tracks, I was told, were not very safe. After only a few weeks of living in the “Gateway to Yosemite,” I understood why this advice was to be taken seriously.

Like in many low-income communities, violence is a major concern for residents of Merced County. Neighborhoods in south Merced and the unincorporated area of Planada—where almost 90 percent of the population is Latino—are plagued with violence, usually gang-related. Just last year, the county recorded its highest number of homicides at 32, with 14 of them in the city of Merced. This is a jump from 2013, when 29 homicides were reported county-wide, and only five were recorded in the city of Merced. To put the numbers in perspective, late last year the Fresno Bee reported that Tulare County, also located in the San Joaquin Valley and with a population almost twice as large as Merced’s, recorded 15 murders in 2014 and 19 in 2013.

Merced’s growing homicide rate is a pattern that seems to be continuing this year. So far in 2015, Merced County has recorded six homicides. Five of them have been in the city of Merced. The last three of these six took place in the course of three days, just two weeks ago.However, violence isn’t only in the extreme form of murder; cases of domestic violence are also an issue of concern in this area. For example, the local family crisis center estimates that it handles about 1,600 new cases of domestic violence and sexual assaults a year.

Surely, this spike in violence is having an impact on the mental well-being of locals. Residents have often expressed fear and insecurity of living in their own communities. Anxiety caused by gun shot sounds in the middle of the night or in finding bullet casings outside their homes is not a rare sentiment. But for many, these neighborhoods are the only places where they can afford housing; moving elsewhere is not much of an option.

For this project, I will explore the short and long-term effects that the increasing violence in the county has on residents’ mental health. How does this fear and tension affect people’s everyday lives and their way of thinking? How do people who have lived through or witnessed a traumatic violent experience cope? How does violence impact local youth, and how does this toxic stress influence their development? These are just some of the questions I hope to be able to answer as I further explore this issue.  


Picture of

Latino, culturally accepted male violence, too many children too young, Catholic faith, limited job skills, drop-out rate and on and on. Nothing new here--just connect the well/documented dots. Latino males and their uneducated, overwhelmed, mostly illegal parents are the problem--end of story.


Follow Us



CHJ Icon