In Ottawa, many youth are in situations of emotional distress—they struggle with things like depression, anxiety, or even isolation. That’s why United Way and our community partners invest in programs that minimize what we call “negative life outcomes”—things like poor mental health, socioeconomic inequality or unhealthy lifestyles down the road. By investing in early childhood, together we are addressing their needs now, but also laying the foundation for future success.
By Paul Steeves, Senior Manager, Evaluation and Analytics, United Way Ottawa; and Paula Quig, Researcher, Community Initiatives, United Way Ottawa
Toxic stress is different. It’s caused by things like as abuse, neglect, extreme poverty, violence, household dysfunction and food scarcity[iii]—hardships that can be detrimental to mental and physical health in the long term.
Toxic stress results in prolonged activation of the stress response. In a toxic stress situation, there is a lack of caregiver support, reassurance or emotional attachment, which prevents the buffering of the stress response and the return of the body to its normal functioning.
The powerful impact of toxic stress is clear. Early intervention and prevention strategies are needed to minimize serious long-term impacts.
[i] Franke, Hillary A. Toxic Stress: Effects, Prevention and Treatment. Children (Basel). 2014 Dec.; 1(3); 390-402; Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University. Toxic Stress. Available online at https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/toxic-stress-stress/. See also Gunnar, Megan R. PhD, Herrera, Adriana MA, and Hostinar, Camelia E. BS. Stress and Early Brain Development. University of Minnesota, USA. June 2009. Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development.
[ii] Franke, supra.
[iii] Franke, supra.
[iv] Franke, supra. National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. (2005/2014). Excessive Stress Disrupts the Architecture of the Developing Brain: Working Paper 3. Updated Edition. http://www.developingchild.harvard.edu.
[v] Dr. Jean Clinton Supporting Ontario’s youngest minds: Investing in the mental health of children under 6. Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health. November 2014 at 13.
[vi] Franke, supra. See also generally the results of the Ace Study, available online on the Centre for Disease Control website at https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/about.html
[vii] See Canadian Institute for Health Information. Children Vulnerable in Areas of Early Development: A Determinant of Child Health. Ottawa, ON: CIHI; 2014 at page 8
[viii] Note as well that in 2015 Canada was cited as one of the five countries with the highest teenage suicide rates (10 per 100,000 teens). See Organization for Economic Co-operation Development Family Database. CO4.4: Teenage suicides (15-19 years old) [Internet]. OECD; 2017 Oct 17 [cited 2018 Jul]. Available online at: http://www.oecd.org/els/family/CO_4_4_Teenage-Suicide.pdf).
[ix] See Canadian Institute for Health Information. Child and youth mental health in Canada [Infographic on internet]. Ottawa: CIHI; 2018 [cited 2018 Jul]. Available online at: https://www.cihi.ca/en/child-and-youth-mental-health-in-canada-infographic. It is noted that from the 2007-08 to 2016-17 period there was a 66% increase in emergency department visits, and a 55% increase in hospitalizations, of children and youth (5 to 24 years) due to mental health concerns. More generally, self-harm hospitalizations for children and youth in Canada increased a 90% between 2009-2014. See Canadian Institute of Health Information. Self-harm and assault: A closer look at children and youth [Internet]. Ottawa: CIHI; 2014 Nov [cited 2018 Jul]. Available online at: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/Public_Summary_Intentional_Injuries_EN.PDF