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Doctors: COVID-19 pandemic stress causing increase in violent crimes

Memorial Hermann in the Medical Center saw over 4,682 traumas from January of this year to June. That’s over 1,000 more traumas than the same time frame last year.

HOUSTON — With World Mental Health Day upon us, Houston doctors are taking this time to urge those who may be struggling to seek help.

They say stress from the pandemic is hurting our mental health, and that’s causing a significant increase in violent crimes.

Coronavirus has affected us in so many ways. It’s taken down the economy, hurt our health and changed our basic way of life. But one unexpected impact is it’s increased violent crimes.

“Unfortunately what we’re seeing as a result of this, more patients are being victims of violent crimes, shootings or stabbings for a number of reasons," said Dr. Samuel Prater with Memorial Hermann and UTHealth.

Memorial Hermann in the Medical Center saw more than 4,682 traumas from January of this year to June. That’s more than 1,000 more traumas than the same time frame last year.

“We thought that maybe it was just unique to our campus, but when we reached out to the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Committee, they’re seeing the same thing across the whole region," Dr. Prater said.

Dr. Prater said there’s only really one big change this year: the pandemic, and the stress that’s come along with it.

“I just think you have a shorter fuse when you’re stressed. You have a shorter fuse, you’re more likely to lash out," Dr. Prater said.

He said those crimes have been both random and personal, but also include shootings that are self-inflicted, especially involving older people.

“Losing your source of income, that comes along with that, and sort of feeling like maybe you have no other means and no other way out," Dr. Prater said.

His biggest message today is if you think you need help, don’t be ashamed to ask.

“It’s certainly not a sign of weakness to say, 'Hey, you know what? These are stressful times, and I need somebody to talk to,'" Dr. Prater said.

If you find yourself needing someone to talk to, the Houston Health Department has a COVID-19 Mental Health Support helpline. The number is (713) 999-9442. Someone will answer the phone at this number from 1 p.m. to 11 p.m. 7 days a week until at least Dec. 24.