It has been said that pain and suffering are natural elements of the universal human condition. Most of us will experience some degree of trauma in our lifetime, but our responses to that trauma will vary significantly based on a variety of factors including genetics, disposition, temperament, and early home life. Mental health professionals cannot pinpoint a single, universal reason that some victims display more resilience to the crippling effects of trauma; however, they do know that there is a strong link between violent crime and ensuing psychological distress. For this reason, mental health services can be a critical resource for victims.
On the heels of recent tragedies like the Isla Vista shooting and the Reynolds High attack in Troutdale, OR, it is certainly important to consider the factors that may cause criminal conduct and to address the role of our mental health system in violence prevention; yet, it is equally important to address the well-being of victims and to recognize the host of mental health challenges they face as a result of violent crime.
CalVCP Staff Psychologist Dr. James Kent explains that violent crime leaves behind not just tangible scars, but also serves as a mental reminder that the world isn’t as orderly and safe as we’d like to believe. As victims attempt to cope with the aftermath of a violent crime, they may experience debilitating psychological and emotional effects that persist long after physical wounds have healed. According to Dr. Kent, symptom responses can include anxiety, depression, diminished self-esteem, self-fault, increased dependence, feelings of incompetence. Victimization can also result in shock, numbness, denial, hyper-vigilance, anger or irritability, detachment or estrangement of others, memory loss or forgetfulness, sleeping disorders, and recurring flashbacks or intrusive thoughts. Child victims have been known to suffer long-term mental health effects leading to poor academic performance, aggression, antisocial behavior, and substance abuse.
CalVCP is dedicated to assisting victims with expenses related to inpatient and outpatient mental health treatment that is necessary as a direct result of a qualifying violent crime. In addition, minors who suffer emotional injuries from witnessing a violent crime may be eligible for up to $5,000 in mental health counseling. This filing status can be especially valuable in instances such as school shootings, when a minor witness is not related to the victim but was in close proximity to the crime. By providing financial assistance and resources, CalVCP strives to promote healing and allow victims the opportunity to restore their lives to their fullest potential.
To learn more about the mental health benefits available through CalVCP, watch our Victim Services Talk Series (Ep. 4, "Mental Health Services for Victims") or visit our Victim Issues webpage.
Julie Nauman is the Executive Officer for the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board (VCGCB). VCGCB provides compensation for victims of violent crime and helps to resolve claims against the State.