Does High St. Louis Murder Rate Give Kids’ ‘Toxic Stress’?

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It takes Tajaé Redden, 13, a minute to walk to her home in north St Louis from where her school bus drops her off, but the walk puts her on edge. She makes sure to check the passengers of every car to make sure no one will put her in danger. In her family’s area, people sometimes turn to guns when they’re having a bad day, The Guardian reports. “It doesn’t take that long for somebody to just pull out a gun and start shooting for no apparent reason,” Tajaé said. “It’s just the environment that we live in.” St. Louis has had the highest murder rate of any U.S. city since 2014, with 66.1 murders per 100,000 people. This summer alone, 13 children were killed with bullets.

Chante Bass is coordinator for Neighborhood Net, a program that volunteers stand at bus stops throughout the city to ensure kids get to and from home safely. The program, run by the nonprofit Better Family Life, was created in response to the uptick of young violence victims the summer. “When adults are around, it deters people’s actions,” Bass said. The trauma of living in a stressful environment can take a serious toll on children’s mental health. Toxic stress can damage a child’s developing brain, affecting a child’s ability to reason, regulate emotions and feel empathy. The stunt in development can actually be worse than the effect of lead in drinking water. “It’s probably more toxic,” said Joan Luby, a professor of child psychiatry at Washington University.

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