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Texas-Mexico Border Violence May Harm Kids' Mental Health

Behavior problems reflect continuing crime in Mexico, study shows

FRIDAY, Oct. 19, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Violence and poverty harm the mental health of children living near the Texas-Mexico border, a new study shows.

Researchers looked at the mental health of children and teens living in El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, in 2007 and again in 2010. All of the children were Mexican or Mexican-American and lived in homes below the poverty level. None had a history of diagnosed mental illness.

The psychosocial and behavioral scores of the children in El Paso did not change significantly between 2007 and 2010. However, the children in Ciudad Juarez showed significant increases in social problems, rule- breaking and aggression scores over the study period.

The study was scheduled for presentation Friday at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) annual meeting, in New Orleans.

"There is cumulative harm to the mental health of children from the combination of collective violence attributed to organized crime and poverty," study author Marie Leiner said in an AAP news release.

"Untreated mental health problems predict violence, anti-social behaviors and delinquency, and this affects families, communities and individuals," she explained. "It is crucial to address the mental health of children on the border to counteract the devastating effects this setting will have in the future."

Data and conclusions presented at medical meetings typically are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

While the researchers found an association between living in increasingly violent surroundings and mental health decline, they did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about child and adolescent mental health.

SOURCE: American Academy of Pediatrics, news release, Oct. 19, 2012
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