Matthews S (2017) One in four youngsters face risk of deadly toxic stress caused by trauma of bullying, divorc
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Matthews S (2017) One in four youngsters face risk of deadly toxic stress caused by trauma of bullying, divorce or poverty in childhood. Mail Online 06:17, 12 July 2017. Accessed from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-4687836/How-severe-ongoing-stress-affect-childs-brain.html
One in four youngsters face risk of deadly toxic stress caused by trauma of bullying, divorce or poverty in childhood
- Traumatic experiences as a child can lead to life-long health issues, experts say
- Without psychological support, issues can lead to a spiral of stress in youngsters
- But this persistent stress is linked to some of the major causes of death in adults
Soaring numbers of children could be at risk of deadly toxic stress damage, experts warn. Traumatic experiences in childhood, such as witnessing a divorce, being bullied or growing up in poverty, could lead to life-long health issues. Without psychological support, these common issues could lead to a spiral of stress in youngsters, leaving them constantly in ‘fight or flight’ mode. But this persistent stress is widely linked to some of the major causes of death and disease in adulthood, including heart attacks and diabetes. ‘The damage that happens to kids from the infectious disease of toxic stress is as severe as the damage from meningitis or polio or pertussis,’ says Dr Tina Hahn, a pediatrician in rural Caro, Michigan. Figures suggest one in four children experience some kind of traumatic event that affects them mentally by the time they turn 16.
While it’s estimated that nearly half of all children live in families close, or below, the poverty level in the US. Similar rates can be seen in the UK. The true danger lies in the brains of children, who are more vulnerable to the damage of childhood adversity, scientists claim. Due to the organ not having formed properly in early years, such experiences can have a lasting effect on their mental health. And the first three years are thought to be the most critical, with those who lack close bonds with their family most at risk. In stressful situations – for a toddler that could be getting an injection or hearing a loud thunderstorm – heart rate and levels of stress hormones are briefly raised.
Recent studies suggest this changes the body’s metabolism and contributes to inflammation, raising the risk of diabetes and heart disease. In 2015, Brown University researchers reported finding elevated levels of inflammatory markers in saliva of children who had experienced abuse or other adversity. Experiments also imply persistent stress may alter brain structure in regions affecting emotions and regulating behaviour.
DANGERS OF STRESS IN CHILDHOOD
Stress in childhood may put you at a greater risk of depression in later life by permanently changing DNA, research suggested last month. Mice exposed to stressful situations as newborns are more likely to show signs of depression when faced with another challenging scenario when fully grown, a study found. Researchers believe stress in early life may increase our lifelong risk of suffering from the mental health disorder by altering the DNA that is related to mood and depression. Lead author Dr Catherine Peña from Mount Sinai hospital in New York, said: ‘Our work identifies a molecular basis for stress during a sensitive developmental window that programs a mouse’s response to stress in adulthood.’ Study co-author Dr Eric Nestler added: ‘This mouse paradigm will be useful for understanding the molecular correlates of increased risk of depression resulting from early life stress and could pave the way to look for such sensitive windows in human studies’.
Mounting research on potential dangers of toxic stress is prompting a new public health approach to identify and treat the effects of poverty, neglect, and abuse.
While some dispute that research, paediatricians and mental health specialists are increasingly adopting what is called ‘trauma-informed’ care. The approach starts with the premise that extreme stress or trauma can cause brain changes that may interfere with learning, explain troubling behaviour, and endanger health. Their goal is to identify affected children and families and provide services to treat or prevent continued stress. This can include parenting classes, addiction treatment for parents, school and police-based programs and psychotherapy. The toxic stress theory has become mainstream, but there are skeptics, including Tulane University psychiatrist Dr Michael Scheeringa.
He told AP that studies supporting the idea are weak, based mostly on observations, without evidence of how the brain looked before the trauma. The American Academy of Pediatrics supports the theory and in 2012 issued recommendations to educate parents about the long-term consequences of toxic stress. In a 2016 policy noting a link between poverty and toxic stress, the academy urged pediatricians to routinely screen families for poverty. Much of the recent interest stems from landmark US government-led research published in 1998 called the Adverse Childhood Experiences study. It found adults exposed to neglect, poverty and other domestic dysfunction were more likely than others to have heart problems, diabetes, depression and asthma. A follow-up 2009 study found that adults with six or more adverse childhood experiences died nearly 20 years earlier than those with none.
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