Nav: Home

For better adult mental and relational health, boost positive childhood experiences

September 09, 2019

Positive childhood experiences, such as supportive family interactions, caring relationships with friends, and connections in the community, are associated with reductions in chances of adult depression and poor mental health, and increases in the chances of having healthy relationships in adulthood, a new study led by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers suggests. This association was true even among those with a history of adverse childhood experiences.

The findings, to be published September 9 in JAMA Pediatrics, could encourage public health efforts and policies aimed at boosting positive childhood experiences in conjunction with reducing adverse childhood experiences.

Researchers have long known that adverse childhood experiences, such as physical or emotional abuse or neglect, substance abuse and mental health problems in the household, exposure to violence, parental incarceration or divorce, can have lifelong negative effects on physical and mental health, explains study leader Christina Bethell, PhD, MPH, MBA, professor in the Bloomberg School's Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health and director of the Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative.

The association between adverse childhood experiences and health effects is complex. Some individuals with multiple adverse childhood experiences thrive while others do not. And, many without adverse childhood experiences have health issues associated with adverse experiences, perhaps due to a lack of positive childhood experiences.

Positive childhood experiences are a key factor in influencing health and well-being, yet have not been sufficiently studied to date.

Bethell and her colleagues found a significant connection between positive childhood experiences and adult respondents' mental and emotional health. For those reporting six to seven positive childhood experiences, the odds of having depression or 14 or more poor mental health days in the previous months were 72 percent lower than for those reporting zero to two positive childhood experiences. Even for those reporting three to five positive childhood experiences, the odds of depression or poor mental health were 50 percent lower than those reporting zero to two positive childhood experiences. These associations held true even when respondents reported multiple adverse childhood experiences.

Additionally, the odds that respondents answered "always" on the question about getting the social and emotional support they need as adults was 3.53 times greater for those reporting six to seven positive childhood experiences compared to those reporting zero to two. Even among those with no adverse childhood experiences, only one-third reported always getting the social and emotional support they needed if they had zero to two positive childhood experiences. This was half the rate as those with six to seven such experiences. "Given the science linking social and emotional support to life expectancy, health and suicide, these findings have important implications," Bethell explains.

For their study, Bethell and her colleagues investigated the effects of positive childhood experiences analyzing data from the Wisconsin Behavioral Risk Factor Survey, a yearly random digit-dial telephone survey conducted in collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The survey collects state-level data about health-related risk behaviors, chronic health conditions, and the use of preventive services.

In the 2015 Wisconsin survey, the state included seven extra questions related to positive childhood experiences. These included whether the respondents (1) were able to talk with their families about their feelings, (2) felt that their families stood by them during difficult times, (3) enjoyed participating in community traditions, (4) felt a sense of belonging in high school, (5) felt supported by friends, (6) had at least two non-parent adults who took genuine interest in them, and (7) felt safe and protected by an adult in their home.

The study designed, tested, and used a new positive childhood experiences measure that showed a dose-response relationship between how many positive experiences adults reported and their mental and relational health. This new "cumulative positive" design captures aggregate experiences in the same way adverse childhood experiences measure "cumulative risk."

The survey also scored respondents' adverse childhood experiences and included questions about mental health, including diagnoses of depression and how many reported having poor mental health days in the past month. In addition, respondents were asked how often they got the social and emotional support they need (adult-reported social and emotional support). More than 6,000 adults ages 18 and older participated in the survey.

"This study offers the hopeful possibility that children and adults can thrive despite their accumulation of negative childhood experiences," say Bethell. "People assume eliminating adversity automatically results in good health outcomes, but many people reporting lower adversity in childhood still had poorer mental and relational health outcomes if they did not also report having had positive childhood experiences."
-end-
"Positive Childhood Experiences and Adult Mental and Relational Health in a Statewide Sample: Associations Across Adverse Childhood Experiences Levels" was written by Christina Bethell, PhD, MPH, MBA; Jennifer Jones, MSW; Narangerel Gombojav, MD, PhD; Jeff Linkenbach, ED; and Robert Sege, MD, PhD.

This study was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (Grant 75448); a Health Resources and Services Administration grant (UA6MC30375); Casey Family Programs cooperative agreement to Health Resources in Action; the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, National Institutes of Health Award (UL1TR002544); the Wisconsin Children's Trust Fund (now Wisconsin Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board).

Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

Related Science Articles:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.
Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.
Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.
Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.
Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.
World Science Forum 2017 Jordan issues Science for Peace Declaration
On behalf of the coordinating organizations responsible for delivering the World Science Forum Jordan, the concluding Science for Peace Declaration issued at the Dead Sea represents a global call for action to science and society to build a future that promises greater equality, security and opportunity for all, and in which science plays an increasingly prominent role as an enabler of fair and sustainable development.
PETA science group promotes animal-free science at society of toxicology conference
The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is presenting two posters on animal-free methods for testing inhalation toxicity at the 56th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 12 to 16, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland.
Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement
James Wynn's timely investigation highlights scientific studies grounded in publicly gathered data and probes the rhetoric these studies employ.
Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, pharma, and biopharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2016 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.
Three natural science professors win TJ Park Science Fellowship
Professor Jung-Min Kee (Department of Chemistry, UNIST), Professor Kyudong Choi (Department of Mathematical Sciences, UNIST), and Professor Kwanpyo Kim (Department of Physics, UNIST) are the recipients of the Cheong-Am (TJ Park) Science Fellowship of the year 2016.
More Science News and Science Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Uncharted
There's so much we've yet to explore–from outer space to the deep ocean to our own brains. This hour, Manoush goes on a journey through those uncharted places, led by TED Science Curator David Biello.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#555 Coronavirus
It's everywhere, and it felt disingenuous for us here at Science for the People to avoid it, so here is our episode on Coronavirus. It's ok to give this one a skip if this isn't what you want to listen to right now. Check out the links below for other great podcasts mentioned in the intro. Host Rachelle Saunders gets us up to date on what the Coronavirus is, how it spreads, and what we know and don't know with Dr Jason Kindrachuk, Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology and infectious diseases at the University of Manitoba. And...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 1: Numbers
In a recent Radiolab group huddle, with coronavirus unraveling around us, the team found themselves grappling with all the numbers connected to COVID-19. Our new found 6 foot bubbles of personal space. Three percent mortality rate (or 1, or 2, or 4). 7,000 cases (now, much much more). So in the wake of that meeting, we reflect on the onslaught of numbers - what they reveal, and what they hide.  Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.