Effect of Socioeconomic Stress on Family Health

2533 words (10 pages) Essay

10th Apr 2018 Psychology Reference this

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Revisions and Literature Review

  • Tiffany Stewart

 

Socioeconomic status is defined “as the social standing or class of an individual or group. It is often measured as a combination of education, income, and occupation” (American Psychological Association, 2014). There are higher and lower socioeconomic statuses (SES) that can have a big effect on a family’s health. In 2012, research showed that one in five children lived below the federal poverty line (Noble et al., 2012). Family resources such as “income, parent’s education and health can have a direct and indirect benefit for children” (Thompson, 2014, p. 42). Families in lower SES have poor physical and mental health compared to families in higher SES.

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When a family lives in a lower SES, there are more stressful life events that affect the whole family. Stress can be defined as “a complex psychobiological process with biological, emotional, mental, and behavioral consequences, all of which influence one another” (Thompson, 2014, p. 46). Children and adolescents are at an age where they are not able to provide their own socioeconomic status. This is left up to the parents, which can have big effect on the child’s developmental outcomes at the current age and later in life (Hackman & Farah, 2009). Research has shown that when a stressful life event occurs, catecholamines and glococorticoids are mediated (Lupien, King, Meaney, & McEwen, 2000). When glucocorticoid response to stress in a short amount of time, this is an adaptive function that is normal. When glucocorticoid has increased for long periods of time, this can be associated with different depressive symptoms (Lupien et al., 2000).

There is also other research on how stress from the mother will affect the child once born. The fetus is left exposed to the mother’s diet, emotions, and environmental influences that can have effect on development (Thompson, 2014). The fetus is very sensitive to maternal stress. If the mother is under a lot of stress during pregnancy, the child will have a greater reactivity to stress once born (Thompson, 2014). One study showed that when the fetus was exposed to maternal cortisol, seven year old girls had emotional difficulties and a larger volume in the right amygdale (Thompson, 2014). After a child has been born and has been under a lot of stress, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis does not function the way it should. The HPA axis is a human’s central stress response system. The neurological circuitry is changed to how the body response to stress. This will happen when the child is exposed to stressful event on multiple occasions to change the sensitivity of the HPA system (Thompson, 2014).

The way the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal system is supposed to work in individuals that are not exposed to large amounts of stress is by the “release of steroid hormone cortisol from the adrenal gland” (Essex, Klein, Cho & Kalin, 2002, p. 777). Cortisol (stress hormone) has a big influence on brain function. When cortisol is released during stressful experiences, this will enhance an organism’s ability to adapt in those times (Essex et al., 2002). Elevated levels cortisol that happens multiple times during the early years will cause physiologic effects later in the individual’s life. These effects include “increased resistance to the effects of insulin, promotion of obesity, impaired memory via effects on hippocampal neurons, and altered immune responses” (Essex et al., 2012, p. 777).

Behavior can also tie into the disruptive HPA axis activity when stress occurs. These behaviors include how the child is “coping, cognitive and attention problems, poor emotional regulation, and difficulty in social functioning” (Thompson, 2014, p. 45). These behavior problems have associations for children’s academic functioning as well as building relationships with other children and adults. Children that have been exposed to stressful events multiple times in their early life show academically that they have a hard time concentrating, remembering things, and controlling their own thinking. With relationships, children have “heighten emotional reactivity and weaken emotional self-regulation” (Thompson, 2014, p. 45).

Stress in general is part of every person’s life. A normal amount of stress is nothing to worry about and necessary to survive. Stress does occur at a young age, and this will help to develop coping skills and learn how to adapt to stressful situations that will occur throughout the lifetime (Middlebrooks & Audage, 2008). Parents are the ones that should help the children learn how to deal with stress in a healthy way. When stress is not dealt in a healthy way, there can be short and long-term health effects. Research has shown that there are three different types of stress that a person can go through in their life. These three include positive stress, tolerable stress, and toxic stress.

Positive stress is from negative experiences that are short-term (Middlebrooks & Audage, 2008). Examples of positive stress are when children start a new school, or when someone else takes a toy away from them. The health effects include heart rate being increased and hormone levels changing. This type of stress is normal and the parents can help the child learn how to cope with it as a developmental process (Middlebrooks & Audage, 2008).

Tolerable stress is from a negative experience that impacts the child more than positive stress but is still short-term. Examples of tolerable stress include dealing with a death of a family member, or the parents are separating (divorce) (Middlebrooks & Audage, 2008). As long as the child has support from a family member or someone close to the child, he/she is usually able to learn how to deal with experience in a healthy way. If the child learns to deal with the experience in a healthy way, it will turn into possible stress. If the child is unable to deal with the experience, this can turn into toxic stress that will have long-term health effects (Middlebrooks & Audage, 2008).

Socioeconomic stress falls under the category of toxic stress. This kind of stress is from negative experiences that can continue for long periods of time. Other examples include neglect and abuse (Middlebrooks & Audage, 2008). When toxic stress occurs, brain development and functioning will be disrupted. Health problems can also occur that have the capacity to be long-term. There is research that has shown how brain development is effected by long-term stress like socioeconomic stress. Brain development is a process that starts to take place during pregnancy. Factors that influence brain development include genetics and the environment that the mother is in.

The toxic stress on brain development can impair the connection of brain circuits and lead to developing a smaller brain (Middlebrooks & Audage, 2008). The circuits in the brain can cause a child to not be able to handle stress. The child will overreact to conflicting experiences that occur in his/her life. High levels of cortisol (stress hormone) can also damage the hippocampus that affects learning and memory that can continue into adulthood. There is even research that has shown that high levels of stress hormones can restrain the immune response in the body. The individual can end up with different infections and health problems (Middlebrooks & Audage, 2008).

Socioeconomic status has shown that there are negative effects on the developing brain. This includes regions of the brain responsible for language, and stress hormones. Linguistic exposure at a young age has been linked with developmental differences in language regions in the left hemisphere of the brain (Noble, Houston, Kan, & Sowell, 2012). The left temporal, temporo-occipital and the frontal cortices are responsible for the development of language skills (Noble et al., 2012). Depending on the SES of the parents that are raising children in those environments will effect what kinds of resources are available to develop those regions of the brain. Higher SES families use parent-child reading activities and have multiple books available to help the child learn language skills compared to families that live in lower SES. Two fMRI studies have shown SES differences with children in two different parts of the left hemisphere for language. These include the functions of the left fusiform and the left inferior frontal gyrus (Noble et al., 2012).

Children from lower SES tend to show a difference in how they experience stressful events reflected in hormonal markers of stress (Noble et al., 2012). Research on stress in animals and humans has shown negative effects on the hippocampus, amygdale, and the anterior cingulated cortex in the medial prefrontal cortex (Noble et al., 2012, p. 518). These areas of the brain are critical for developing memory, socio-emotional processing, and cognitive control/self-regulation. An fMRI study showed that children in lower SES will more likely have a smaller hippocampus (Noble et al., 2012).

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The background information provided in the paper has shown that during pregnancy, a fetus can be affected by the socioeconomic stress the mother is dealing with. With this research, it has shown that the stress the parents deal with in their daily lives disrupts the development the child goes through mentally and physically. Socioeconomic status is usually defined by family education, occupation, and income level (Noble et al., 2012). The fetus is very sensitive to the stress the mother goes through which will affect child when they are born. The child will then have a greater reactivity to stressful situations (Thompson, 2014). This area of research is a problem since there is known information of how the stress does affect the child even before they are born. If the socioeconomic stress is affecting the child’s development, will this affect the child later in life?

The purpose of this study is focus on socioeconomic stress and the effects it has on a child’s developing brain later in life. There is a lot of research on what happens to the brain of a developing child when there is a lot of stress being exposed to him/her. Research has shown that children that are sensitive to stress from environmental factors when they are born will have higher cortisol levels (stress hormone). What has gaps in the research is if the high levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in a young child will determine mental health problems later in the individual’s life. The only research on this area is very general and does not specifically explain mental health problems that can occur. The only specific research in this area mentions how children will have behavior and academic problems as they get older.

The purpose of the study will include children at the ages of 5-10 to determine if they are experiencing mental health problems from the socioeconomic stress they experienced during pregnancy and at birth. Women in the second trimester will also need to be included to look back on the kind of stress they were experiencing that could affect their children in low SES. The mothers and the children at one month would also need to be looked at. The cortisol levels would be tested by a saliva sample from the children at the ages of 5-10. Starting with pregnancy and going to the ages of 5-10 will track maternal stress from infancy to childhood and the mental health problems that can occur from it.

Essex, Klein, Cho, and Kalin (2002) also did a study on maternal stress and how it affects children later in life. This study was only one to observe mother’s during pregnancy and continue until the child was four and a half years old. The author’s results showed that elevated cortisol levels appear to predict dysregulated behavior and mental disorders (Essex et al., 2002). Other findings also included how “maternal stress may increase the vulnerability of the developing child’s HPA system to later stress exposure” (Essex et al., 2012, p. 780). Since little research has started with maternal stress, it is important that further research is done to show that there is an effect on children’s mental health later in life. There research only covered socioeconomic stress, maternal stress, and cortisol level. This leaves out other factors (e.g. genetics) that could cause children mental health problems later in life. The question that would need to be addressed is what other factors could have an effect on children’s mental health later in life.

References

American Psychological Association (2014). Socioeconomic status. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/topics/socioeconomic-status/

Essex, M. J., Klein, M. H., Cho, E., & Kalin, N. H. (2002). Maternal stress beginning in infancy may sensitize children to later stress exposure: Effects on cortisol and behavior. Biological Psychiatry, 52(8), 776-784. doi:10.1016/S0006-3223(02)01553-6

Hackman, D. A., & Farah, M. J. (2009). Socioeconomic status and the developing brain. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13(2), 65-73. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2008.11.003

Lupien, S. J., King, S., Meaney, M. J., & McEwen, B. S. (2000). Child’s stress hormone levels correlate with mother’s socioeconomic status and depressive state. Biological Psychiatry,48(10), 976-980. doi:10.1016/S0006-3223(00)00965-3

Middlebrooks, J.S., Audage, N.C. (2008). The effects of childhood stress on health across the lifespan. Atlanta (GA): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

Noble, K. G., Houston, S. M., Kan, E., & Sowell, E. R. (2012). Neural correlates of socioeconomic status in the developing human brain. Developmental Science, 15(4), 516- 527. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7687.2012.01147.x

Thompson, R. A. (2014). Stress and child development. The Future of Children, 24(1), Retrieved from http://ezproxy.snhu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1539237845?acco untid=3783

Revisions and Literature Review

  • Tiffany Stewart

 

Socioeconomic status is defined “as the social standing or class of an individual or group. It is often measured as a combination of education, income, and occupation” (American Psychological Association, 2014). There are higher and lower socioeconomic statuses (SES) that can have a big effect on a family’s health. In 2012, research showed that one in five children lived below the federal poverty line (Noble et al., 2012). Family resources such as “income, parent’s education and health can have a direct and indirect benefit for children” (Thompson, 2014, p. 42). Families in lower SES have poor physical and mental health compared to families in higher SES.

When a family lives in a lower SES, there are more stressful life events that affect the whole family. Stress can be defined as “a complex psychobiological process with biological, emotional, mental, and behavioral consequences, all of which influence one another” (Thompson, 2014, p. 46). Children and adolescents are at an age where they are not able to provide their own socioeconomic status. This is left up to the parents, which can have big effect on the child’s developmental outcomes at the current age and later in life (Hackman & Farah, 2009). Research has shown that when a stressful life event occurs, catecholamines and glococorticoids are mediated (Lupien, King, Meaney, & McEwen, 2000). When glucocorticoid response to stress in a short amount of time, this is an adaptive function that is normal. When glucocorticoid has increased for long periods of time, this can be associated with different depressive symptoms (Lupien et al., 2000).

There is also other research on how stress from the mother will affect the child once born. The fetus is left exposed to the mother’s diet, emotions, and environmental influences that can have effect on development (Thompson, 2014). The fetus is very sensitive to maternal stress. If the mother is under a lot of stress during pregnancy, the child will have a greater reactivity to stress once born (Thompson, 2014). One study showed that when the fetus was exposed to maternal cortisol, seven year old girls had emotional difficulties and a larger volume in the right amygdale (Thompson, 2014). After a child has been born and has been under a lot of stress, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis does not function the way it should. The HPA axis is a human’s central stress response system. The neurological circuitry is changed to how the body response to stress. This will happen when the child is exposed to stressful event on multiple occasions to change the sensitivity of the HPA system (Thompson, 2014).

The way the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal system is supposed to work in individuals that are not exposed to large amounts of stress is by the “release of steroid hormone cortisol from the adrenal gland” (Essex, Klein, Cho & Kalin, 2002, p. 777). Cortisol (stress hormone) has a big influence on brain function. When cortisol is released during stressful experiences, this will enhance an organism’s ability to adapt in those times (Essex et al., 2002). Elevated levels cortisol that happens multiple times during the early years will cause physiologic effects later in the individual’s life. These effects include “increased resistance to the effects of insulin, promotion of obesity, impaired memory via effects on hippocampal neurons, and altered immune responses” (Essex et al., 2012, p. 777).

Behavior can also tie into the disruptive HPA axis activity when stress occurs. These behaviors include how the child is “coping, cognitive and attention problems, poor emotional regulation, and difficulty in social functioning” (Thompson, 2014, p. 45). These behavior problems have associations for children’s academic functioning as well as building relationships with other children and adults. Children that have been exposed to stressful events multiple times in their early life show academically that they have a hard time concentrating, remembering things, and controlling their own thinking. With relationships, children have “heighten emotional reactivity and weaken emotional self-regulation” (Thompson, 2014, p. 45).

Stress in general is part of every person’s life. A normal amount of stress is nothing to worry about and necessary to survive. Stress does occur at a young age, and this will help to develop coping skills and learn how to adapt to stressful situations that will occur throughout the lifetime (Middlebrooks & Audage, 2008). Parents are the ones that should help the children learn how to deal with stress in a healthy way. When stress is not dealt in a healthy way, there can be short and long-term health effects. Research has shown that there are three different types of stress that a person can go through in their life. These three include positive stress, tolerable stress, and toxic stress.

Positive stress is from negative experiences that are short-term (Middlebrooks & Audage, 2008). Examples of positive stress are when children start a new school, or when someone else takes a toy away from them. The health effects include heart rate being increased and hormone levels changing. This type of stress is normal and the parents can help the child learn how to cope with it as a developmental process (Middlebrooks & Audage, 2008).

Tolerable stress is from a negative experience that impacts the child more than positive stress but is still short-term. Examples of tolerable stress include dealing with a death of a family member, or the parents are separating (divorce) (Middlebrooks & Audage, 2008). As long as the child has support from a family member or someone close to the child, he/she is usually able to learn how to deal with experience in a healthy way. If the child learns to deal with the experience in a healthy way, it will turn into possible stress. If the child is unable to deal with the experience, this can turn into toxic stress that will have long-term health effects (Middlebrooks & Audage, 2008).

Socioeconomic stress falls under the category of toxic stress. This kind of stress is from negative experiences that can continue for long periods of time. Other examples include neglect and abuse (Middlebrooks & Audage, 2008). When toxic stress occurs, brain development and functioning will be disrupted. Health problems can also occur that have the capacity to be long-term. There is research that has shown how brain development is effected by long-term stress like socioeconomic stress. Brain development is a process that starts to take place during pregnancy. Factors that influence brain development include genetics and the environment that the mother is in.

The toxic stress on brain development can impair the connection of brain circuits and lead to developing a smaller brain (Middlebrooks & Audage, 2008). The circuits in the brain can cause a child to not be able to handle stress. The child will overreact to conflicting experiences that occur in his/her life. High levels of cortisol (stress hormone) can also damage the hippocampus that affects learning and memory that can continue into adulthood. There is even research that has shown that high levels of stress hormones can restrain the immune response in the body. The individual can end up with different infections and health problems (Middlebrooks & Audage, 2008).

Socioeconomic status has shown that there are negative effects on the developing brain. This includes regions of the brain responsible for language, and stress hormones. Linguistic exposure at a young age has been linked with developmental differences in language regions in the left hemisphere of the brain (Noble, Houston, Kan, & Sowell, 2012). The left temporal, temporo-occipital and the frontal cortices are responsible for the development of language skills (Noble et al., 2012). Depending on the SES of the parents that are raising children in those environments will effect what kinds of resources are available to develop those regions of the brain. Higher SES families use parent-child reading activities and have multiple books available to help the child learn language skills compared to families that live in lower SES. Two fMRI studies have shown SES differences with children in two different parts of the left hemisphere for language. These include the functions of the left fusiform and the left inferior frontal gyrus (Noble et al., 2012).

Children from lower SES tend to show a difference in how they experience stressful events reflected in hormonal markers of stress (Noble et al., 2012). Research on stress in animals and humans has shown negative effects on the hippocampus, amygdale, and the anterior cingulated cortex in the medial prefrontal cortex (Noble et al., 2012, p. 518). These areas of the brain are critical for developing memory, socio-emotional processing, and cognitive control/self-regulation. An fMRI study showed that children in lower SES will more likely have a smaller hippocampus (Noble et al., 2012).

The background information provided in the paper has shown that during pregnancy, a fetus can be affected by the socioeconomic stress the mother is dealing with. With this research, it has shown that the stress the parents deal with in their daily lives disrupts the development the child goes through mentally and physically. Socioeconomic status is usually defined by family education, occupation, and income level (Noble et al., 2012). The fetus is very sensitive to the stress the mother goes through which will affect child when they are born. The child will then have a greater reactivity to stressful situations (Thompson, 2014). This area of research is a problem since there is known information of how the stress does affect the child even before they are born. If the socioeconomic stress is affecting the child’s development, will this affect the child later in life?

The purpose of this study is focus on socioeconomic stress and the effects it has on a child’s developing brain later in life. There is a lot of research on what happens to the brain of a developing child when there is a lot of stress being exposed to him/her. Research has shown that children that are sensitive to stress from environmental factors when they are born will have higher cortisol levels (stress hormone). What has gaps in the research is if the high levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in a young child will determine mental health problems later in the individual’s life. The only research on this area is very general and does not specifically explain mental health problems that can occur. The only specific research in this area mentions how children will have behavior and academic problems as they get older.

The purpose of the study will include children at the ages of 5-10 to determine if they are experiencing mental health problems from the socioeconomic stress they experienced during pregnancy and at birth. Women in the second trimester will also need to be included to look back on the kind of stress they were experiencing that could affect their children in low SES. The mothers and the children at one month would also need to be looked at. The cortisol levels would be tested by a saliva sample from the children at the ages of 5-10. Starting with pregnancy and going to the ages of 5-10 will track maternal stress from infancy to childhood and the mental health problems that can occur from it.

Essex, Klein, Cho, and Kalin (2002) also did a study on maternal stress and how it affects children later in life. This study was only one to observe mother’s during pregnancy and continue until the child was four and a half years old. The author’s results showed that elevated cortisol levels appear to predict dysregulated behavior and mental disorders (Essex et al., 2002). Other findings also included how “maternal stress may increase the vulnerability of the developing child’s HPA system to later stress exposure” (Essex et al., 2012, p. 780). Since little research has started with maternal stress, it is important that further research is done to show that there is an effect on children’s mental health later in life. There research only covered socioeconomic stress, maternal stress, and cortisol level. This leaves out other factors (e.g. genetics) that could cause children mental health problems later in life. The question that would need to be addressed is what other factors could have an effect on children’s mental health later in life.

References

American Psychological Association (2014). Socioeconomic status. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/topics/socioeconomic-status/

Essex, M. J., Klein, M. H., Cho, E., & Kalin, N. H. (2002). Maternal stress beginning in infancy may sensitize children to later stress exposure: Effects on cortisol and behavior. Biological Psychiatry, 52(8), 776-784. doi:10.1016/S0006-3223(02)01553-6

Hackman, D. A., & Farah, M. J. (2009). Socioeconomic status and the developing brain. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13(2), 65-73. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2008.11.003

Lupien, S. J., King, S., Meaney, M. J., & McEwen, B. S. (2000). Child’s stress hormone levels correlate with mother’s socioeconomic status and depressive state. Biological Psychiatry,48(10), 976-980. doi:10.1016/S0006-3223(00)00965-3

Middlebrooks, J.S., Audage, N.C. (2008). The effects of childhood stress on health across the lifespan. Atlanta (GA): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

Noble, K. G., Houston, S. M., Kan, E., & Sowell, E. R. (2012). Neural correlates of socioeconomic status in the developing human brain. Developmental Science, 15(4), 516- 527. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7687.2012.01147.x

Thompson, R. A. (2014). Stress and child development. The Future of Children, 24(1), Retrieved from http://ezproxy.snhu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1539237845?acco untid=3783

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