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by Dr. Wanda

CHILDREN’S MENTAL HEALTH MATTERS!!

…it matters to me both personally as well as professionally, and here is why it should matter to you!

WHAT IS AN “ACE” SCORE?

Approximately 20 years ago, the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) American study examined the relationship between childhood trauma and the risk for physical and mental illness in adulthood. What has been found in the ACE study is that there is a very strong relationship between the level of trauma that is experienced between the ages of 0-18 years (in childhood), and poor physical mental and behavioural problems later in life.

WHY ARE ACEs IMPORTANT?

  • ACEs are pretty common (about 2/3 of us have at least one)
  • If you have one ACE, usually you have two or more
  • ACEs cause chronic diseases (such as cancer, heart disease, and mental illness)
  • The greater number of ACEs that you have, the more at risk you likely are
  • Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are believed to lead to most of our chronic physical health, mental health, economic health, as well as social health issues

HOW DO I CALCULATE MY ACE SCORE?

ACEs include any of the following experiences (before the age of 18):

  • Physical Abuse
  • Emotional Abuse
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Substance abuse in the home
  • An incarcerated household member
  • A family member in the home who chronically has untreated mental health issues, is institutionalized, and/or is suicidal
  • Mother or primary female caregiver is treated violently
  • One (single parent family) or no parents
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect

Your score is simply calculated by adding up the number of experiences answered as “yes” in the ten listed. “0” means you have had no significant or ongoing trauma while a score of “10” indicates a significant childhood trauma history.

The key concept in the ACE study  is that toxic stressful in childhood can result in social, emotional, and/or cognitive impairments. In fact, brain science tells us that fear-based or traumatic childhoods actually disrupt and negatively alter the developing brain.

What is fascinating about the ACE study is that the research shows that long-term effects are clearly a major determinant of our health and social well-being. Further, this important study tells us that millions of dollars are often not properly spent or allocated in order to address many issues that we face as Albertans.

THIS STUDY TELLS US VERY CLEARLY THAT IF WE WORK ON THE PROTECTION, WELL-BEING, AND NURTURING OF OUR CHILDREN, SIGNIFICANT SOCIAL AND HEALTH PROBLEMS WILL BE DRAMATICALLY REDUCED.

 

WHAT CAN ADULTS (who can’t change their ACEs score) DO?

It is important to know that as human beings, we are pretty resilient. We can overcome a lot of things and we can even repair ourselves physically as well as from a brain science perspective (this is called “neuro plasticity”). Both our genetic structure as well as the environment around us come into play…both nature and nurture are important.

There are some key strategies for supporting yourself towards good physical and mental health.  Firstly, by choosing to live a healthy balanced lifestyle (physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually) by eating right, exercising regularly, having good self-care, and developing a mindfulness practice. While these seem common sense, many of us struggle with striking a balance due to many demands in our days.

However, because of these demands, through being self reflective and using mindfulness (applied practice to focus oneself in the present state) strategies, we can typically decrease tendencies to react, become overly-emotional, and be “triggered” by things around us. By ensuring that we are not dwelling too much in the past, and while ensuring that we don’t get too far ahead of ourselves (which often creates anxiety), we can feel more in control of ourselves and our lives. And, when we adults are in control of ourselves, we are better able to respond to our children and to ensure positive communication and nurturing experiences. So, let’s all pay particular attention to how powerful our words, touches, and actions are on our children (as well as those around us).

SUPPORTING CHILDREN’S MENTAL HEALTH HAS LIFELONG EFFECTS!  Let’s work together and make it happen!