Violence and its effects on our children

File picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Not a day passes when we do not hear on the news, read in our papers or on social media of about brutal killings in the Cape flats with headlines declaring that Cape Town is one of the most violent cities in the world.

Ordinary struggling men and women have to leave their homes in the cold dark winter mornings filled with constant fear that they will be pounced upon by a group of knife and gun wielding thugs out to rob them of their cell phones and whatever they have in their possession. Some end up being badly beaten by these thugs for absolutely no reason at all.

The police and government have clearly lost the battle against criminals when worshippers are robbed in a church in the middle of a service.
What defence  does the priest and his congregants have against a bunch of ruthless thugs who have lost their soul.

I was shocked when a six year old boy was brought to me with a history of severe headaches.
The night before, the headache was so intense that he asked his dad to take his head off. He cried the whole night through in front of his helpless parents. The usual pain syrup did nothing to alleviate his pain.

The parents were worried that their son suffered from a serious problem in the brain and wanted a scan. In my rooms the child looked well and pleasant and displayed no signs of any pathology in the brain. I decided to tactfully look for an underlying psychological cause for his headaches.

After a short history, the little boy sadly admitted that he was very worried that his dad would be shot and never return whenever his dad goes out and he hears gun shots. On that particular night, his dad went out to buy car parts and the little boy heard gun shots, so he panicked and developed severe tension headaches fearing that his dad was killed by the gangs. Examination of his muscles revealed that his muscles were taut, tight and tender.

I have treated tension headaches in several adults but this was the first time that I had to treat a young six year old for tension headaches. I counselled him because pain relievers were not going to solve the little boy’s fears. This little boy’s story is merely the tip of the iceberg. I am sure there must be thousands of children who suffer from headaches, depression and anxiety as a result of the unbridled violence on the Cape Flats.

All I could do was to try and reassure the little boy but I could not completely allay his fears knowing that violence is totally out of control in our country. Children don’t have a way of expressing their innermost fears. These fears affect their concentration and behaviour at home and in class. We need to reach out to our children and listen to their fears and help them to deal with their pain. We must not wait for something serious to happen to them before we take them seriously.

It is quite likely that many young children and youth turn to cannabis as an escape from the daily trauma that they are exposed in their neighbourhoods. The sight of people being shot, stabbed and robbed right in front of their must have an impact on these young children when they go to bed at night. Many must be suffering from PTSD. The free availability of drugs line cannabis makes it easy for children to become addicted to them.

Teachers must find it very difficult teaching anxious and depressed children who are sleep deprived and are on drugs. The government should embark on a a huge campaign to train lay counselors to counsel children in schools and to identify children in need of psychological counseling because we won’t have enough psychologists to cover all the schools in the country.

The violence in our country will remain with us for a long time to come so we have a duty to protect our children from its effects on their young minds and lives. We need to look at safe playing places for children to play sports. Active participation in sports is the best non-drug measure to combat anxiety and depression, not just in kids but for anyone. I can only appeal to our government and law enforcement agencies to listen to the pain and fear of our children and citizens instead of just making empty threats to criminals.

Ellapen Rapiti is a family physician working in Mitchells Plain for over 36 years. He is also the author of a book called, ‘4  Steps to healing’, a self help book on addiction for users and their families as well a motivational speaker.