Effect of Stress in Orphanages

Stress is such an interesting construct. It is heavily studied by psychologist in many different domains of research. We all have a collective identification with stress, because it is something that every individual experiences. From our lesson we learned that “stress arouses us to prepare us to cope with challenging events” (Nelson, PSU WC, lesson 5). Stress isn’t continuous. For the most part, we will all experience a stressful situation, and then it will resolve itself. I wondered what the effects of stress could be on an individual who experiences stress in a continuous cycle.

Professor Andy Bilson is a social worker who has advocated for the reform of orphanages on a global scale. He has seen first hand the haunting feeling of walking into an orphanage and not hearing anything but prevailing silence. How can this be? Anyone who is familiar with babies and children is that they are loud. They make noise. This is their nature. Babies cry for attention because it is their way of communicating that they need something. Anyone who has had a child knows that the cry of a baby is very effective and it does its job by getting your attention. Babies don’t cry in orphanages because they have learned that their needs will not be met, so why cry? Additionally, the stress a baby experiences is connected with higher cortisol levels. This dangerous level of cortisol has developmental and creates differences in brain growth in babies in orphanages.

I found this article to be heartbreaking, but it is a truth that we must face and correct. I have a cousin who was adopted from Russia when she was 16 months old. I remember my Aunt and Uncle telling me stories about the orphanage being silent, no crying. My cousin has faced countless set backs in her emotional and developmental growth. She was evaluated at age 12 as having the emotional maturity of a four year old. She has had to go to alternative schools because of her disciplinary problems in a main stream school.

It is not shocking that there are negative effects on someone who is under a constant state of stress. What is shocking to me, is how pervasive the effects of that last. Even with interventions, my cousin will probably never lead a completely independent life.


Bilson, A. “The babies who suffer in silence: how overseas orphanages are damaging children” The Telegraph. 6 November 2017. Retrieved from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/health-fitness/body/babies-suffer-silence-overseas-orphanages-damaging-children/

1 comment

  1. Benjamin Kendall Soltero De Martin


    Thank you for offering up a discussion on a topic that seems to be seldom addressed, but would be vitally important for the many who end up in orphanages for no fault of their own. I have never considered that a baby may cease crying due to a continuous cycle of stress, but it may not be entirely surprising when I began to consider it. I have seen adults who have battled years of anxiety and depression, and then finally reach a point where they seem completely disconnected from others. I wonder if these reactions are in any way related to each other? When one’s call for attention goes unanswered for so long, do they eventually stop reaching out for help?

    Your post also made me think about the psychological needs for those providing support within orphanages. I almost started to become emotional in just reading your blog, I could not imagine what it would be like working with these babies everyday. I would hope that the nurses, doctors, counselors, etc… are also getting emotional help to deal with such stressful circumstances.

    Thanks for opening up my mind to a new topic of discussion,

Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar