Welcome to our recognition of mental health awareness month. In past articles we have clearly outlined the stigma associated with recognizing and supporting those of us that sometimes struggle with mental health symptoms. As humans, we tend to hide the most vulnerable parts of ourselves. We worry that our vulnerability will show weakness. We hide the parts of ourselves that plainly show our humanity. We deny our discomfort, rationalize our fears, and gravitate towards instant gratification. But what if these behaviors made sense? When both our physical and mental health are direly impacted by stigmatized experiences; at what point do we begin to address the root cause of the issue?
I will go ahead and name the subject of this piece. Childhood trauma is the culprit responsible for negatively impacting the positive trajectory of our physical health, mental health, and overall development. Some may have stopped reading by now, minimizing the affects that early experiences have on our overall growth and development, but if you’re still with me, please hear me out.
Trauma is a subjective word. In short, it means something happened that overwhelmed the individual or community’s ability to cope with whatever happened. This means that whatever transpired overwhelmed our resources and we were left struggling to manage with the impact of said event or occurrence. If we think about our resources, they vary greatly depending on the individual person, family unit, community, society, and nation. A multitude of factors impact quantity and depth of and stash of resources; strength, age, weight, status, race, finances, to name a few. Again, it’s subjective; what overwhelms me might not overwhelm you. What overwhelms one country might not overwhelm another. What overwhelms one family may not overwhelm the other.
Adverse Childhood Experiences are challenges faced before age 18 years of age. In the mid 90’s there was a study conducted in Southern California of over 17000 Kaiser members. These individuals were screened and asked how their early life experiences had impacted their overall trajectory of wellness. What these researchers found was quite baffling. They asked a series of 10 questions related to abuse, neglect and household challenges. The outcomes of the study demonstrated the direct correlation between adversity faced as children and the poor health outcomes experienced later in life without intervention.
This information is not to reduce us to our histories or experiences, but to make us aware of the impact of such experiences. Our brains bodies, and nervous systems will forever be impacted by factors such as the alterations of our physiology and increased stress hormones, but with proper awareness, education, and intervention we can learn about our individual and collective needs in order to mitigate the harsher impacts of some of these experiences, allowing our needs to be met and our bodies to heal from what they have experienced.
Please visit the link below to the CDC website if you are interested in taking your own ACE score quiz or learning more about the impact of early life experiences on the trajectory of physical, mental, and developmental health.
*My name is Kara Gately and I am a social worker working in a rural health clinic at Plumas District Hospital as a mental health professional providing psychotherapy and addiction treatment services. My passions include social justice, mental health, and promoting fair treatment and well-being for all. Please join the exploration and education in each publication as we explore topics related to mental health and health education.