Pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris is on a mission to ignite a national movement to fight what she calls the single greatest public health crisis facing our nation today: childhood trauma.
In her TEDMED 2014 talk, she discusses the crisis and the growing movement to address it. In the mid-1990s the Center for Disease Control (CDC), along with Kaiser Permanente, discovered that exposure to childhood trauma, or adverse childhood experiences (ACE), “affects brain development, the immune system, hormonal systems and even the way our DNA is read and transcribed. Folks who are exposed in very high doses have triple the lifetime risk of heart disease and lung cancer and a twenty-year difference in life expectancy,” says Harris, who also wrote for “The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink”.
For those who had high exposure to “physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; physical or emotional neglect; parental mental illness, substance dependence, incarceration; parental separation or divorce; or domestic violence” during their childhood, the relative risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hepatitis, depression, suicide, lung cancer and heart disease is significantly (and troublingly) higher according to the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study conducted by Dr. Vince Felitti at Kaiser and Dr. Bob Anda at the CDC.
Dr. Burke Harris laments that despite the science behind the effect of childhood trauma on general health and the brain, “doctors today are not trained in routine screening or treatment.” So she became an Architect of Change and founded the Center for Youth Wellness at the California Pacific Medical Center Bayview Child Health Center to find a new multidisciplinary way to diagnose adversity and treat symptoms in children through a holistic approach that includes home visits, care coordination, mental health care, parent education, nutrition and medication when needed. She is concerned, however, that people aren’t paying this public health crisis enough attention.
“The scope and scale of the problem seems so large that it feels overwhelming to think about how we might approach it,” she says in her TED Talk. “But for me, that’s actually where the hopes lies, because when we have the right framework, when we recognize this to be a public health crisis, then we can begin to use the right tool kit to come up with solutions. From tobacco to lead poisoning to HIV/AIDS, the United States actually has quite a strong track record with addressing public health problems, but replicating those successes with ACEs and toxic stress is going to take determination and commitment…
“This is treatable. This is beatable. The single most important thing that we need today is the courage to look this problem in the face and say, this is real and this is all of us. I believe that we are the movement.”
Watch the full TED talk below and tell us what you think in the comments.