Nationally, about 80 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are suffering from illnesses caused by stressful experiences in their lives.
The recently opened Inala Centre for Excellence in Indigenous Health in Brisbane has been researching the problem.
Dr Deborah Askew says the Inala study actually revealed a low rate of stress amongst children, but she put that down to the questions asked by the researchers.
"Because no-one mentioned poverty, no-one mentioned unemployment, no-one mentioned racism, no-one mentioned being hassled by police but we know that this is a daily experience for people. We know the rates of unemployment in Inala for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are very high in comparison to the rest of Brisbane. But no-one mentioned that, so we figured that this has just become a part of everyday life for people. And that's just tragic in so many ways,” says Dr Askew.
The stress being endured by Indigenous children leads to a weakened immune system leading to problems like ear and skin infections that don't heal properly.
Dr Askew says the children's behaviour at home and at school suffers because of these chronic conditions.
"We also found a strong relationship between reports of stressful events and behavioural problems. We figure that if kids are under constant stress or living in a stressful household and living with stress on a daily basis, they're going to muck up because that's their way of coping with all the stuff that's going on around them," says Dr Askew
Dr Askew says if a child is continually visiting the Inala clinic with symptoms such as skin or ear infections, the clinic follows up on possible cause of those stresses at home.
“We have employed a social worker and psychologist as core members of our health care team here looking to see, or offering the parents the opportunity at least to go and see the social worker or psychologist to help them try and sort out some of the stuff that's going on at home," says Dr Askew.
344 children up to the age of 14 participated in the study with the findings published in the Medical Journal of Australia.