Pediatrician at Eskenazi Health
Stress can greatly impact our children’s health.
When we think of the health needs of our children we often just think of the physical aspects of health. How serious is that cough? Is her hearing and eyesight normal? Does he feel hot?
Important evidence now suggests that the mental health of a child is as equally or in some cases more important and can more greatly impact a child’s physical health. The American Academy of Pediatrics and others are calling for more effective and aggressive intervention for children in distress.
A term has been coined called “toxic stress,” the response when a child experiences strong, frequent and prolonged adversity. This may include physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect, caregiver substance abuse or mental illness, exposure to violence, and the accumulated burdens of family economic hardship that is coupled with inadequate adult support.
To put it simply, it is how the body responds to these events and not the stressful event itself. Health and policy leaders have begun to examine ways to address this growing problem. The academy has launched the Center on Healthy, Resilient Children to help pediatricians and others identify toxic stress in children and connect them with appropriate resources.
Research suggests that providing high-quality early childhood education and care is important. Support for parents is also critical as in many of these cases the parents experienced the same stressors in their childhoods.
So what can be done? First, it is important that parents do not ignore their mental health. If parents are stressed, it is likely that their children are stressed as well. To first help your children, you need to help yourself. Second, having a strong support system is important.
So the next time you visit your child’s pediatrician, talk about your child’s mental health. Check and see if there are any resources that might be beneficial for your family. In addition, if you have not seen a doctor recently, schedule an appointment. Your overall health greatly impacts your child’s health.
For additional information on this topic, visit healthychildren.org. If you are in need of a pediatrician or a primary care physician call 317-880-8687 or visit www.eskenazihealth.edu/doctors.