Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
School's Out

Children, Stress and Mental Health

I’m not sure why we ended up at an all-day symposium on Early Life Stress & Mental Health at MIT on Thursday. But it was on our calendar, probably because of Peter’s interest in the brain.

The first half of the symposium was devoted to technical reports on the science, with titles like “Neural Correlates of Familial and Socioeconomic Stress” and “The Brain and Body on Stress: Epigenetics of Plasticity During the Lifecourse.”

The rest of the program was more about the challenges of dealing with the debilitating effects of childhood adversity. One speaker, Dr. Michael Lu, administrator of Maternal and Child Health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, talked about the work his agency is doing to meet those challenges.

His second-last slide showed a grainy black and white photo of a young Chinese girl in Taipei, his mother. His family was so poor that she often had to decide between buying medicine or food. Once, she sold her wedding ring to pay for Lu’s medication.

Now, a doctor himself, heading a U.S. federal agency, he said he hoped that we could give every child the same chance to succeed that he had had. Lu’s final slide was a photo of two beaming, beautiful little girls, his daughters.

The audience gave him a standing ovation, and I don’t think I was the only one moved to tears.

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