Did you know that Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE)—or trauma undergone during the childhood years—can cause psychological damage potentially impacting people into their adult years? These childhood experiences may include abuse, neglect, and various types of household dysfunctions such as mental illness and substance abuse. As adults, people who have experienced ACEs may struggle with issues such as depression, addiction, obesity, and even heart disease.
The ACE study, which took place in the 1990’s, asked over 17,000 people about their health and adverse childhood experiences, such as abuse, neglect, family addictions, and other dysfunctions in the household. The study found an astounding correlation between ACEs, brain development, and the immune system.
Three years ago, the Mental Health and Recovery Board of Ashland County conducted a mini-documentary that highlighted how common, but also how preventable, ACEs can be. If Ashland is ACEs informed, the study can help our community leaders and organizations not only increase their awareness of the problem but also create programs and resources that best combat it.
The key to preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences is focusing on nurturing and protecting the children in our community. Leaders in the community and other organizations can provide programs to help at-risk children develop safe, stable, and nurturing relationships with adults and peers. A great way to build those relationships is to provide children with mentors. Community influencers can work toward creating safer and more supportive environments in places like schools, medical facilities, and playgrounds—anyplace where children live, learn, and play!
We’re already seeing positive changes in our community as awareness of ACEs increases. Teachers consider how trauma may be affecting a student who acts out, rather than just dismissing the student as uncooperative or simply uninterested in learning. Police officers increase their compassion for people as they ask themselves why a person has committed a crime, and then help them find the resources they need to treat the childhood trauma leading to the behavior. Even medical professionals can see chronic problems in their patients which can sometimes be due to an attempt to treat their Adverse Childhood Experiences. All of these community servants can start asking the people they encounter, "What happened to you?” rather than “what’s wrong with you?"
According to the American Psychological Association, “psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress.” Thus resilience functions as a natural counterweight to Adverse Childhood Experiences—and it can be taught! Community leaders can also use their knowledge of ACEs to help both children and adults learn and practice resilience. The trait allows people to come through their experiences stronger and with the ability to cope with difficult situations.
To learn more about the ACEs study in Ashland, and how to put it into practice, view our mini-documentary.