Updated: Feb 26, 2020
It's being called "The Silent Epidemic" because while we know what's causing the epidemic, it gets little attention and there is no national system in place to control or address it. This epidemic is directly responsible for:
the majority of alcohol and drug abuse
risky health behaviors
chronic pain and disability
and a host of other mental illnesses.
It's not the hidden epidemics we've heard all about like lyme disease, obesity, diabetes or hypertension. It doesn't come close to striking the fear or hysteria of ebola, bird flu or mad cow disease. It kills far more people than the opioid epidemic...and is partially responsible for it. The silent epidemic of all silent epidemics is childhood neglect and abuse. This is not an exaggeration; this is hard science!
The prevalence of child abuse and neglect is similar regardless of social, ethnic or economic status.
The best and quickest way to understand the gravity of this situation is explained in this excellent Ted Talk by Dr. Nadine Burke, I became an immediate fan! Much of the research in this area comes from the landmark study of more than 17,000 people in the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study. As the number of ACEs increases, so does the risk for premature death.
So why isn't this epidemic being addressed?
I can't offer a single valid reason because it's complex. One of the reasons is the complexity is incompatible with our desire for quick-fix "cures." For example:
Anxiety and depression? There's a drug for that.
Substance abuse? There's a rehab for that.
Violent behavior? There's a prison for that.
Inflammation and illness? There's a doctor for that.
Suicide or premature death? Preventing or healing trauma could have changed that.
The temporary "cures" feed our microwave mentality and serve as bandaids but they don't cure, prevent or address the life-limiting consequences of child neglect and abuse as elaborated in, "You Can't Hide From Your Shitty Childhood."
The quick fixes create short term profits for big business but nobody is minding the kids. Little is being done to prevent and address the root causes of so much dysfunction and suffering. There's no big money to be had in social work, breaking the chain of generational abuse or teaching people how to be good parents.
Sweeping budget cuts to programs for at-risk children and child protective services has created more stress and left more children at risk. Today, fewer case managers and bigger case loads mean more kids can slip between the cracks. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) continue to fund research in Adverse Childhood Events but the bulk of their budgets are earmarked for other issues and special interests. The net effect is an abysmally inadequate level support for children who are imprisoned by abuse and have nowhere to turn. All at a time when stress and anxiety disorders are at epidemic levels in children, teens and young adults.
Our prevailing system lets the chips fall where they may and reaps the profits from cleaning up the mess.
Addressing this epidemic takes courage, it takes money and it takes a village. But not addressing it head on, when the data are so overwhelmingly clear is wholly unacceptable. Dr. Burke says, "We are the movement."
This complex and taboo subject requires far, far more government support and far more than government intervention. Encouraging victims to speak and empowering bystanders to act is a start but what happens after they do? We also need local grassroots movements.
Encouraging victims to speak and empowering bystanders to act is a start but what happens after they do?
If you are already involved or want to become involved, check out these links to resources for use in your community.
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