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The Wisconsin Office of Children’s Mental Health (OCMH) recently released information on toxic stress and its impact on youth and their mental health.

toxic stress in youth mental health

Stress is unavoidable and is experienced by all. However, some individuals experience stress that is more than a daily nuisance, which is known as toxic stress.

Issues like poverty, discrimination, abuse and housing insecurity are continuous stressors that create a constant state of fear and uncertainty for those experiencing them.

According to a news release from the OCMH, when stress is persistent and threatening to a child, the impacts are toxic: damaging their developing brain and body, and impacting their physical and mental health. Youth living in environments with consistently toxic levels of stress can have difficulty learning, working, behaving and maintaining healthy relationships.

Toxic stress and traumatic events impact adolescents’ decision-making, impulse control and emotional regulation. These, in turn, impact their mental health, for years to come beyond their youth.

“The good news is that parents can teach and model healthy coping skills to reduce the effects of toxic stress,” said Linda Hall, director of the OCMH. “Teaching children how to cope with stress is important, but so is addressing the factors that create toxic stress for families.”

4 ways to reduce toxic stress

Outlining these impacts on youth mental health, the OCMH shares four ways to reduce toxic stress:

  • Parents can instill healthy household habits: connect over meals, get sufficient sleep, exercise, and spend time in nature.
  • Families can ensure children have at least one trusted adult in their lives.
  • Schools can provide extra support to children known to have been exposed to traumatic events or to be experiencing Adverse Children Experiences (ACEs).
  • Policymakers can expand refundable tax credits, which reduce stress, poverty, child neglect and housing insecurity.
toxic stress
Credit: Monstera / Pexels

These key points are from the OCMH and their new fact sheet on toxic stress and highlighted reduction strategies.

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