Whether in the lab, the clinic, a community center or in parent-to-parent relationships, the key is to ask deep enough questions and to invest enough time and energy to grapple with the heartbreaking, multifaceted complexity underlying how adverse experiences such as neglect or abuse can affect the health of children, leading to strikingly higher likelihoods of mental illness and reduced lifespan.
“We do everything that we can to help primarily low-income children and parents,” said Barbara Picower, president of the JPB Foundation, which supports many of the event’s speakers and collaborated with the Institute to organize the daylong conference, a biennial event at MIT since 2012. “Toxic stress is something that is so damaging to children, the results of it occur through the lifetime.”
Added MIT Provost Martin Schmidt, “The topic of this symposium could not be more important for our society, morally or practically.”
Speakers reinforced Picower and Schmidt’s introduction with an abundance of data. New Jersey children traumatized by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, even if their homes suffered only “minor” damage, were 5 times more likely to be depressed and to report feelings of nervousness and fear years later, reported Patricia Findley, associate professor of social work at Rutgers University.
If you aren’t willing to take the time to actually figure out what’s happened to a child you might treat the child for something that isn’t really causing that kid to be sick. You have to really take the time to understand.
-- Geoffrey Canada
And Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, a pediatrician and founder of the Center for Youth Wellness in San Francisco, presented data from a major review study and other sources showing that experiencing four or more adverse childhood events (ACEs) is associated with an 5.6-fold risk of drug abuse, an 11 times increased risk of Alzheimer’s and a 30-times greater risk of suicide. In all, ACEs can rob decades of longevity from a person, the studies show.