Documentary filmmaker James Redford showcased his latest film Resilience: The Biology of Stress & The Science of Hope to hundreds of Sundance Film Festival 2016 audiences. Redford was delighted and grateful to be chosen by the festival programmers to share his ground breaking findings on the impact of Toxic Stress Syndrome in children. A subject close to his heart because as a young person he too suffered from a correlating illness that was difficult to diagnose.
Redford's documentary compares studies from three doctors in California. Each were privately tracking their own patients with severe learning disabilities and weight gain. A pattern began to arise related to horrific amounts of stress in the patients from children to adults. Not all patients in the study were children. However, with the adult patients their intensity of stress could be traced back to childhood, teenage or at young adult ages. In the observations a couple of doctors noticed that the stress was magnified in those early years. When those patients got older other psychological issues and illness developed that didn't seem to fit the "illness" profile.
One of the explanations presented in the film shown in animation-form of how Toxic Stress plays out in children. A child is crossing the street appropriately. While crossing the street in the crosswalk a big truck is coming too fast approaching the crosswalk. The child sees the truck coming toward him/her and panics. The flee hormone or adrenalin is released in the body that makes the child run or walk quickly to avoid potentially being hit. The child's stress level spikes and then it takes awhile before the stress level settles down. This is a normal reaction of hormonal disbursement in the body. If this happens every time the child crosses the street, several things are triggered in the body. One is aversion to simply cross the street in a safe zone. Another is that the hormone level when spiked doesn't have the appropriate time to decompress and the stress is naturally kept at a high level. The body doesn't relax in those situations.The stress is toxic to the body and shuts down unrelated areas of the body. It's more complicated that this but if the pattern is not broken the Toxic Stress can be dangerous.
Another example is if a child lives in a neighborhood where he or she is constantly hearing gun shots and is home alone with no parental supervision. The fear, concern, worry, uncertainty of their environment causes an undue stress. It eventually plays out in others areas and is toxic to the child. Let's say at age seven the child is a good student. Living in a fearful environment day- in and day-out the stress is toxic to his/her intellectual and emotional development. Potentially causing a loss of motivation in the student. A good student becomes a bad student.
The danger is that toxic stress can trigger hormones that damage the brain and body of a child, putting them at a greater risk for diseases, homelessness, prison time and early death. Children under Toxic Stress Syndrome can be at risk of a shorter lifespan, too.
Resilience looks at innovative approaches to supporting families and children suffering from Toxic Shock Syndrome. Brainstorm Media acquired the North American rights to film. Meyer Shwarzstein from the company tells us why, "Resilience is personally affecting and inspiring. Its positive messages will give educators, parents and policy maker's tools to deal with issues thought to be impossible to solve."
As a Washingtonian, I was proud when the documentary explained that Washington State Educators are one of the forerunners to address Toxic Stress and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) that Resilience explores.