Stress Can Be a Killer

Stress has been linked to a variety of physical and mental ailments, such as headaches, depression, cancer, insomnia, skin disease, cardiovascular disease, an under active immune system, and can exacerbate other pre-existing conditions like HIV/AIDS. Many diseases linked to stress result because of the increase of stress-related hormones in the body, such as adrenaline and cortisol. Stress can cause an insufficient immune response, which will make you more susceptible to the common cold, herpes, a variety of cancers, and HIV/AIDS.

Farmworker communities are especially at risk, because of the multitude of stressors they face in their daily lives, such as discrimination, poverty, difficult living circumstances, and back-breaking labor. More and more, scientists are also looking at the effects of stress in children and even unborn babies.

For Latino youth, discrimination (both perceived and real) has been associated with larger amounts and higher frequency of substance abuse as a coping strategy. Latino youth are also more likely to have suicidal thoughts, attempt suicide, and make a suicidal plan, compared to African American and non-Hispanic white youth. Stress in Latino youth has also been correlated with low self-esteem, helplessness, anxiety, lower academic well-being, school failure, and violence. Social support from family, community members, and peers, has been shown to mitigate negative health outcomes of stress. This is true especially in academic achievement and substance abuse in children.

A new comprehensive study published in EnvironmentalHealthPerspectives looked at 66,203 mother and child pairs. The study indicated that maternal stress is related to a variety of pediatric diseases, such as infectious and parasitic diseases; mental and behavioral disorders; and diseases of the ear, eye, skin, respiratory system, digestive system, musculoskeletal system, and genitourinary system. Some limitations to the study include the fact that other issues that could provoke stress in mothers, such as poverty or work place stressors, can also be to blame for the ailments in the children. The study also did not look at the timing of the mother’s stress during the pregnancy as a factor.

As we commemorate farmworkers for National Farmworker Awareness Week, we should remember that the 2.5 million men, women, and children who pick our food, suffer from stressors day in and day out, with little protection. Stress, like a silent killer, causes or exasperates a variety of other illnesses that weigh heavily on the lives of farmworkers nationwide. Farmworkers lead very stressful lives and it is important that we are mindful of the long-term consequences their children are facing. They experience stress before they are even born potentially limiting their possibilities to truly flourish as adults.

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