Hundreds of people gathered in the Fairfax County Board Auditorium last Monday – including social workers, health professionals, teachers, parents, therapists and appointed and elected officials – to view and discuss a recently released documentary: “Resilience: Toxic Stress and the Science of Hope.” The documentary describes the dangerous, lifelong impact of certain adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as neglect, abuse, and domestic or community violence. Such experiences can cause “toxic stress,” triggering hormones that actually damage children’s brains and bodies.
Toxic stress is defined as “prolonged activation of stress response systems in the absence of protective relationships.” If undiagnosed and untreated, research shows that toxic stress can put people at greater risk for disease, homelessness, prison time, and early death. As one of the researchers explains, “The child may not remember, but the body remembers.” Acting up in school, a lack of impulse control, and other behavioral issues can result from undiagnosed ACEs. Illnesses such as depression or heart disease have also been linked to ACEs. Drugs or medications can mask the symptoms but the mask does not get to the root of toxic stress. Simply put, the body does not divide physical and mental health, according to the research.