This summer, researchers at the Prevention Research Center at Case Western Reserve University presented 2017 data on toxic stress and adolescents in Cuyahoga County. The source is a new, 15 question index local students answer if their high schools participate in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). The YRBS is a surveillance system developed almost 20 years ago to monitor the leading causes of morbidity and mortality among our nation’s youth.
The Youth Risk Behavior Survey is a surveillance system developed almost 20 years ago to monitor the leading causes of morbidity and mortality among our nation’s youth.
Toxic stress is considered sustained, significant adversity, without supports to cope with the experiences. It is associated with lasting neurologic, immunologic, epigenetic and endocrine (read important individual health) impacts. The 15 questions that form the scale include experiences such as: feeling unsafe at school in the last 30 days; feeling hungry most or all of the time; living with someone other than parents; having a parent in prison; and being in a physical fight four or more times. It also includes two questions on bullying. Could risky teen behavior, like self-harm, be connected to toxic stress? Click To Tweet
The findings were sobering. The data was adjusted for race, age and family affluence. Among the more than 11,000 youth respondents, there was a significant association between having four or more indicators of toxic stress and higher reports of health risk behaviors like alcohol and other drug use, violence and sexual behavior. The association is strongest when considering the most extreme behaviors – sex before the age of 13, access to a weapon, self-harm and suicidal behavior. The presence of four or more toxic stressors was more common for African-American, Latinx youth and youth who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual. Those with increased family affluence were less likely to experience toxic stress than youth whose families live in poverty.
The presence of four or more toxic stressors was more common for African-American, Latinx youth and youth who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual
Assets are protective factors known to insulate young people from engaging in risk behavior. Three assets were identified that helped students experiencing high levels of toxic stress: relationships with trusted adults, feeling they matter in their community and seeing a doctor in the last 12 months. These assets were discussed in depth at the Idea Center Wednesday night during a program featuring YRBS data From Risk to Resilience: Understanding and Supporting Local Teens. It will air on WVIZ/PBS on September 1 at 10 a.m. and on 90.3 WCPN on September 3 at 10 p.m. Tune in to learn more about how to best support our local youth.