WASHINGTON–U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) authored an op-ed for Modern Healthcare’s congressional health care policy special issue, “What’s ailing American healthcare?,” to explain the impact of gun violence on America’s mental health crisis and call on Congress to build upon the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.

“When we talk about the gun violence epidemic, the focus is usually on the number of persons killed or injured. But this doesn’t come close to describing the massive scope of this crisis. We ignore the ripples of grief and trauma that wash over a community and leave wounds, especially devastating to children,” Murphy said.

Murphy explained the harmful link between experiencing gun violence and children’s brain development: “Growing up in a violent neighborhood not only erodes any sense of safety or security, it alters your brain chemistry. Scientists have documented how violence-based trauma and fear for one’s safety inject damaging amounts of the hormone cortisol into the brain. This is particularly damaging to the growing brains of children, and it makes it hard for them to sleep, learn and process emotions. It dramatically impacts brain development, making these young people more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.”

Murphy highlighted the funding for mental health programs in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act: “There is just no doubt that a conversation about gun violence has to include a conversation about mental health. I was glad that the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, of which I was the lead sponsor, provides $13 billion to expand school-based mental health programs, train more providers, and improve access to mental health services for everyone. But an investment in mental health won’t end the gun violence epidemic. It’s treating the symptoms, not the cause.”

“America faces both a mental health and gun violence crisis, but only one of them fuels the other. And contrary to the gun lobby’s talking points, it’s the guns fueling our mental health crisis—not the other way around. In fact, people with mental illness are far more likely to be victims of violence rather than perpetrators,” Murphy added.

Murphy concluded: “We should continue investing in mental health programs that help survivors, families and communities learn to cope, but the most meaningful action we can take is to build upon the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and take steps to ensure gun violence impacts fewer people. Passing universal background checks and banning assault weapons are proven ways to save lives and keep guns out of the wrong hands.”

You can read the full op-ed here.