I thought that violence was consistent across circumstances and people.  However, New Orleans violence is unique. This may be due to geography. New Orleans is a port city, so access has always been easy and rather uncontrolled. Another geographical aspect that creates a unique environment of violence in New Orleans is the frequency of natural disasters. Hurricanes such as Katrina and Ida create a psychological and emotional roller coaster impairing both individual and collective stability.

Every year, when hurricane season comes around, people begin to worry whether they will be displaced again or lose their homes. This transforms the temporary state of anxiety and insecurity into a more chronic, long-term problem, causing people to be hyper-vigilant. The result is a downward spiral of anxiety, trauma and violent behavior. As my friend Sandra L. Bloom says: “hurt people hurt people.”

New Orleans has more than 100 festivals per year. This is good from a social perspective, as people engage with one another more regularly. However, it also means that people are left more vulnerable and that may lead to violence in New Orleans taking on a different form than in other places.

Violence is a public health problem and in New Orleans, a serious one.  Other public health problems can be tackled from multiple angles. To tackle the COVID-19 pandemic multiple facets of society were brought together to slow the spread. 

With violence, though, it seems that we are stuck in a singular approach: law enforcement. While this is a crucial component of addressing the violence, it is not the only element. Psychiatry can help solve the issue by involving health care, economic elements, religious and spiritual components, as well as the legal system. 

Factors such as anxiety and mood disorders, limited economic opportunities and education can impact violence levels.  The causal foundation of violence is so varied, no one solution is enough.  A multi-pronged approach is necessary.

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Rahn Kennedy Bailey, M.D., DLFAPA, ACP is the Kathleen and John Bricker Chair Professor & Head Department of Psychiatry at LSU Health Sciences Center.