Stress is encountered in all forms from a very young age. It is not the normal stress but the prolonged, multi layered and intense strain that has been connected to stress related health issues of youth today. Studies of young children have found that this type of negative experiences can go as far as impacting the development of the brain, nervous and immune systems. As adults these surmounting episodes of tension can lead to mental and physical health issues.
The most common perception people have of stress as it relates to children is the kind of a violent nature with abuse or neglect. This is not to be overlooked in the spectrum of stress issues that youth today must deal with. The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child created three main categories to describe stress based on the length and intensity of the stress that child has endured. From short lived to intense and prolonged they are: positive, tolerable and toxic stress. Of which, toxic stress becomes the main concern.
The Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) study researched the link between violence experienced in childhood and its impact on adult health issues. Researchers were able to objectively demonstrate that as the number of these toxic stress incidents increases so do the risk factors for serious health issues. Health issues for youth that carry over into adulthood can range from addictions, heart disease, other chronic diseases, gastro-intestinal issues, headaches, anxiety, liver disease and suicide.
In addition to the image of violence and childhood pressure, youth today have additional turmoil and challenges in their environment that adds to the opportunity for their anxiety level to increase and be prolonged. Added areas considered were prejudice, social difficulties, sexual identity conflict, pressures from various role models to excel, and social media.
The ever changing climate of media, brings constant influx of images infiltrating their senses from endless media outlets such as television shows, movies, mobile devises, social sites and the news. There is an increased need to compete and achieve at higher levels publicly. Social media grants the wish for instant information and lends itself for constant comparisons, public displays of emotional struggles and opportunities for bullying on a very different level.
The Center for Disease Control reports that there are 4,600 annual suicides among youth between the ages of 10-24. Labeled in a report by REACH, an organization aimed at supporting military families through research and outreach, there are suicide risk factors that increase the likelihood of such a tragedy occurring or being attempted. Among them were poor self esteem, sexual identity crises, as well as, psychological and environmental factors. These issues can be heightened when magnified through social media and the ability for any incident to go viral in an instant.
Researchers are not stating that youth should not strive for excellence or taught the value of hard work. The statistics show that it is time to take note of the scars that youth now bare. They are no longer only the visible ones that have been related to abuse in the past. There are additional culprits to consider, no less capable of causing stress related health issues and even suicide in youth today.
By Clea Tucker
Image courtesy of Sacks08 – Flickr license