Promoting children’s mental health awareness: An Interview with Gregory Zimmerman

The Safe Start Center is participating in several Mental Health Awareness Week 2013 activities and today we’ve done a short question and answer with an expert in the areas of mental health and children’s exposure to violence (CEV) to promote the mental, emotional and behavioral health of children and youth.

Gregory M. Zimmerman, Ph.D. is a member of the faculty at Northeastern University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice. His research and teaching interests include an examination of the interrelationships among individual-level factors of crime, social context, and criminal offending. His other research involves juvenile justice, social sciences and sociological theory. He is also the co-author of a recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health, ‘Individual, family background, and contextual explanations of racial and ethnic disparities in youths’exposure to violence.’ You can read more about it here.

1. Why do you feel children’s exposure to violence and mental health issues are such important issues and how did you get involved with your work?

Exposure to violence is an all too common occurrence among children and adolescents that leads to an array of adverse mental health and behavioral consequences. My involvement with exposure to violence as an outcome began with the study of exposure to violence as a predictor of criminal behavior. After recognizing the link between violence exposure and violent offending, I moved to the study of exposure to violence as an outcome.

2. What do you think are some of the most valuable things you have learned through your work?

Exposure to violence is an amalgamation of experiencing and witnessing violence in the family, school, and community context. It is important to disaggregate exposure to violence in order to understand the different mechanisms leading to the different kids of violence exposure.

3. What do you think would have the most impact on improving the overall mental health of children at risk for exposure to violence?

Only by closing the gap between youths’ experiences with violence and parents’ perceptions of their children’s experiences can parents adequately aid in their children’s coping strategies.

4. How would you like to see research and policies shaped to address mental health awareness and exposure to violence?

I think that policies need to better address the link between what parents know and what children experience. I believe that one aspect of Safe Start is to work with schools to notify parents of incidents with violence at school. In addition, getting the school and the community to aid in addressing this problem by educating parents about how to best help their children cope with violence is key.

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