School-wide strategies for reducing stress and promoting healthy learning environments
Research has shown that childhood experiences shape adult lives and that experiencing adverse events during childhood can have lifelong consequences (Felitti et al. 1998). The more adverse experiences reported, the higher the risk of negative health outcomes including depression, alcoholism, obesity, cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, suicide and early death (Felliti, 2009). Adverse experiences may also produce trauma: “Trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being” (Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services, 2014). Events are considered traumatic if they are associated with a high risk of causing mental disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Risk factors for the onset of PTSD in children who have experienced traumatic events consistently include female gender, minority ethnicity and low socioeconomic status (SES), parent mental health problems, pre-existing mental health problems as well as the type, intensity, duration and the number of traumatic events (Alisic et al., 2014; Contractor, Layne, Steinberg, Ostrowski, Ford & Elhai, 2013; Shaw, Espinel & Schultz, 2012). PTSD in children, and PTSD resulting from in-utero exposure to traumatic stress are associated with subsequent developmental delays, poorer physical health, comorbid mental health problems, suicide ideation and substance abuse, as well as increased school absences, poor learning, memory and achievement, and impaired relationships with parents, siblings, peers and teachers (Breslau, 2009; Chu & Lieberman, 2010; Delamater & Applegate, 1995; Fairbank & Fairbank, 2009; Laplante, Brunet, Schmitz, Ciampi, & King, 2008; Scheeringa, 2014). Children who have post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS), but do not meet formal diagnostic criteria for PTSD, are also at risk of these outcomes (Pynoos, et al.,1993; Shaw, Espinel & Schultz, 2012).