LANSING, Mich. – Recent studies have shown that infants’ brains are reacting to external stresses, even while babies sleep.
Things such as domestic conflicts, violence and other traumatic events can influence people’s behavior later in life – even if they don’t have any conscious memory of the original stress.
University of Michigan researcher and infant mental health specialist Julie Ribaudo says so-called “toxic stresses” can result in many different problems, including attention and learning problems, depression and anxiety, and even mood and anger regulation.
“It’s sort of like the best kept secret of why I think America is so violent,” she says. “It’s because we really don’t take good care of our children at a policy, national level.”
Ribaudo says the problem is especially serious with families in poverty that experience economic and other social stresses every day.
The Michigan chapter of the National Association of Social Workers is calling on state legislators to pass Medicaid expansion and increase access to childhood mental health programs.
Ribaudo says the first step in solving the problem is acknowledging that the problem exists.
“So, if we can first admit as a society that infants and toddlers are adversely effected by their experiences,” she says, “and sort of not protect ourselves from the pain of that, then we can begin to look at public policy, funding and training that can alter the course.”