Adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress are of grave concern to Dr. Patrick Withrow, outreach director for Baptist Health Paducah.
"I absolutely agree this is a major public health crisis," he said, on toxic stress.
Withrow and other panelists addressed a crowded Barnes Auditorium Saturday morning at Carson-Myre Heart Center about "ACEs," toxic stress, prevention and awareness. Their panel was part of the 13th annual Addiction & Compulsive Behaviors Symposium that tackled various issues over several hours, including addiction and vaping related problems.
Around 133 people, including physicians, nurses, educators, counselors and other professionals, attended the symposium and watched a screening of the 2016 documentary by James Redford, "Resilience." The film highlighted the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) research study, toxic stress and its impact on developing brains of children. It informed viewers this stress can occur when children experience adversity or traumatic events, such as abuse, neglect and domestic violence, without enough adult support.
The ACE questionaire features several questions, which many attendees filled out, and asks people if they've experienced different types of abuse and neglect before 18 years of age. It also questions if someone had a household member with depression or mental illness, as well as if they had a household member go to prison.
"Resilience" reports ACEs are common and the higher the ACE score, the higher the risk factor for developing health or social problems later, but just one caring adult in a child's life can be a buffer for these experiences. Toxic stress is linked to heart disease, chronic diseases, risky behaviors, depression, lower life expectancy and other issues.
"It's not something you're born with," said pediatrician Dr. Jack Shonkoff, director for Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, in the film. "It's something that's built over time."
After the screening, Withrow joined Janie Criner, executive director of Child Watch, Morgan Elementary School principal Dr. Mark Fenske and licensed clinical social worker Marta Miranda-Straub for follow-up discussion and questions.
"We were taught in medical school to worry about hypertension, diabetes, obesity -- all these things, as sort of a secondary prevention of the diseases," Withrow said. "But here's the psychological and mental basis to all these diseases, which starts in kindergarten. It starts early, early, early on and, if we can control toxic stress, we can get rid of a lot of these risk factors before they ever have time to manifest themselves in the individual."
He thinks it would also save money in health care costs and be more effective in dealing with diseases rather than waiting until it starts.
One audience member later asked about community education on ACEs, to which Miranda-Straub described as being a long-term educational or public advocacy campaign.
"Think about those public health campaigns that have worked," she said. "Even in Kentucky, most restaurants don't let you smoke there anymore, right? That's success. So, this is the same work. How is it that we teach that in the schools? Really early.
"Because when kids come home and tell you, 'You're going to die, Dad, if you keep smoking,' or 'I can't believe you don't have your seat belt on,' because they saw all those dummies going across the car (in a mock auto accident) -- then that community begins to change."