A Tauranga psychologist is teaming up with the son of a Hollywood movie star to start a national conversation on the impact traumatic childhood events has on mental health.
Psychologist Janet Peters has met with Robert Redford's son, James Redford, in Auckland to discuss the issue. Redford recently directed a critically acclaimed documentary on the topic called, Resilience: The biology of stress and the science of hope.
Ms Peters' aim was to organise a screening of the documentary to act as a nationwide fundraiser for a children's charity while raising awareness of the issue.
She has been researching adverse childhood experiences and trauma-informed care and recently wrote a report on the topic for the International Initiative for Mental Health Leadership.
"My interest is that I have a background in trauma personally, thus want to help others," she said.
Ms Peters said research showed traumatic events in childhood created toxic stress which had physical, mental and emotional health impacts which often carried through in to adulthood.
"Toxic stress can change the chemicals in your body and it's hard to learn, hard to relate to people, hard to thrive."
She said researchers had found childhood adversity could cause fundamental changes in development of the brain, the immune and hormonal systems, and misbehaviour could be symptomatic.
The science behind adverse childhood experiences showed it was a real issue but in New Zealand health professionals were only just starting to be trained in it.
"The Bay of Plenty District Health Board has taken on board international research which shows that if children experience many adverse childhood experiences in their life they are more likely to have future mental health, addiction and physical health problems," Ms Peters said.
"They are actively training staff with this research to better help patients."
In a statement after the release of his documentary, Mr Redford said: "When I started hearing about the emerging science of adversity and childhood stress, my mind
was blown . . . Who knew that if your parents got a divorce when you were
growing up, you have a significantly higher risk of heart disease? Or that if your mother had a drinking problem, your own risk for depression in adulthood is much higher? "
Ms Peters said more needed to be done in New Zealand, with its poor history of child abuse, to teach health professionals, parents and teachers how to protect children and help them deal with adverse events without retraumatising them.
She believed screening the film would start the conversation and help to "really get things cracking".