Childhood trauma has effect on health in adulthood

This article was originally published by News-Press Now.

Many people know that what happens in one’s childhood can shape who they are as an adult, but one study has found that some childhood trauma has a direct connection to health issues.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16% of adults in the United States have experienced at least four traumatic events in their childhood that can have a serious effect on their physical, mental and social health.

Adverse childhood experiences, known as ACEs, are broken down into 10 categories: emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse, mental illness, separation/divorce, incarcerated household member, emotional neglect and physical neglect.

Jean West, a licensed clinical social worker and trauma consultant and trainer for the St. Joseph School District, said this data was collected in a study that occurred over 20 years ago and has been proven numerous times since.

“What they discovered was that there was a dose-response effect with these: The more you have, the more likely you are to have physical or mental health difficulties as an adult, and they are actually tied to the 10 leading causes of death.”

According to West, having one ACE is common, but when children experience four or more ACEs, that is when serious effects occur.

“So 67% of the original participants had one ACE, 12% had four or more,” said West. “What we find is when you have four or more, you are much more likely to have mental or medical health issues.”

Besides physical and mental health concerns, those who experience several ACEs also are more at risk to engage in risky behavior like excessive drinking, unprotected sex and dropping out of high school.

According to West, many local children are experiencing trauma related to crime and violence that occurs in the community.

“I do see a lot of kids who they, themselves, have been a victim of crime or their family has been a victim of violence,” West said. “I also see kids who have lost their parent to homicide, suicide or even a normal death; that is something that is, of course, extremely difficult for a child to heal from.”

West said that while many children are experiencing trauma at this time, there is one way to help prevent that trauma from affecting them in adulthood.

“It’s really important to understand that there is a buffer to ACEs. and the major buffer is healthy, safe adult relationships,” West said. “Maybe a child struggled with abuse in the family, but they had a wonderful aunt or a grandma or a coach or a pastor or someone who took healthy interest in them”

West said that ACEs can be prevented by parents evaluating and dealing with the trauma they, themselves, have experienced.

“It’s empowering to understand that what we have gone through as a child, impacts how we parent,” West said. “For example, if we have been sexually abused, and we never really healed from that and never really received treatment, if that were to happen to one of our children, which of course, God forbid, but if it did happen, we’re less likely to be able to handle that in a healthy way and help them because our tendency is to put up a wall.”

West is working to educate more parents, teachers and community members by sharing a book called the “Deepest Well,” that explains ACEs and ways to prevent it.

“Even if kids have gone through really difficult situations, being a positive parent, being present, being willing to listen, to give them quality time and to just be there unconditionally for those kids makes all the difference in the world,” West said.