Researchers: Urban crime may be causing war zone-level stress

News stories can seldom be worse than the killing of Thomas Sonnenberg, the man who answered the door in his north Minneapolis neighborhood when Devon Parker was allegedly banging on it, saying someone was going to kill him if Sonnenberg didn’t help.

Sonnenberg opened the door and moments later was shot to death.

“I begged him to move,” his daughter told KSTP, “but he was trapped by his mortgage, and he felt obligated to stay.”

His is the latest story of violence in north Minneapolis, where violence has led people to give up on it, or at least think about it. It’s not a problem unique to Minneapolis, of course. The “inner cities” have been centers of violence for decades.

It may not be hyperbole when people refer to these areas as being “like war zones.”

ProPublica reports today that a study shows civilian post-traumatic stress disorder is as high in some cities as it has been in actual war zones.

Researchers in Atlanta interviewed more than 8,000 inner-city residents and found that about two-thirds said they had been violently attacked and that half knew someone who had been murdered. At least 1 in 3 of those interviewed experienced symptoms consistent with PTSD at some point in their lives – and that’s a “conservative estimate,” said Dr. Kerry Ressler, the lead investigator on the project.

“The rates of PTSD we see are as high or higher than Iraq, Afghanistan or Vietnam veterans,” Ressler said. “We have a whole population who is traumatized.”

Post-traumatic stress can be a serious burden: It can take a toll on relationships and parenting, lead to family conflict and interfere with jobs. A national study of patients with traumatic injuries found that those who developed post-traumatic stress were less likely to have returned to work a year after their injuries.

It may also have a broader social cost. “Neglect of civilian PTSD as a public health concern may be compromising public safety,” Ressler and his co-authors concluded in a 2012 paper.