Today I spent time with one of our school’s staff to discuss some of the challenges we face with the students that are referred to us from over 20 different school districts. We continue to see a rise in mental health issues and different kinds of emotional support needs. It is challenging to structure programs that meet the academic and psychological needs of the students so that they can be regulated and can learn and eventually live a successful life once they have graduated. We recognize that success is possible. Every year I watch our staff work diligently to help students succeed because of their sensitivity, care and constant creative strategies.
It made me consider the fact that as much as we are politically frantic about healthcare in our national discussions, we may be missing a significant healthcare issue for our children and teenagers. This issue is driving increases in cancer, diabetes, heart disease and a number of other diseases. These health concerns are great detriment to relationships, to emotional health and even have a significant connection to our opioid addiction crisis. What is that up and coming healthcare issue you might ask? It is the high level of toxic stress in the lives of our children.
Jim Hickman, Chief Executive Officer of Center for Youth Wellness just released an article about this reality as he reflects on the adverse-childhood-events research and the impact of toxic stress in our children. Here is a quote from the article:
Toxic stress isn’t caused by a virus or bacteria or a drug. Instead, it’s what happens when children experience very traumatic events such as abuse, neglect, or growing up in a home with a violent or seriously ill parent. Toxic stress can cause long-term health issues starting in childhood, increasing the risk for chronic conditions and poor health by two to four times.
Although much has been written about ACES and trauma in children it is probably not being thought of as a public health issue. Yet it is estimated that over 34 million children are affected by toxic stress causing an epidemic of issues that are proven to be related to this kind of stress.
Very few politicians or health professionals are even clued in to the fact that this is an emerging issue that our schools and mental health professionals are dealing with every day.
Mr. Hickman’s article is compelling and to be truthful it is something that all leaders in our systems of care should be aware of. Here is the link to the article in its entirety.
I appreciate that there are thought leaders like Jim Hickman and others like Dr. Sandy Bloom who are continuing to raise our awareness of the impact of toxic stress. It should be a consideration in education, politics, mental health, and healthcare as we anticipate the magnitude of the impact of this issue.