For kids who face trauma, good neighbors or teachers can save their longterm health

September 16, 2019

New research shows just how important positive childhood experiences are for our long-term health -- especially for those who experience significant adversity as a child.

Studies over the past 20 years have found a correlation between the number of adverse childhood events (such as death or divorce) and worse health outcomes later in life. A new study from professor Ali Crandall and other Brigham Young University coauthors discovered that positive childhood experiences -- like having good neighbors, regular meals or a caregiver you feel safe with -- have the potential to negate harmful health effects caused by adverse childhood experiences.

"If your child has experienced trauma and you're worried about the long-term impact it could have on them, these findings show that the positive experiences in childhood lead to better adult physical and mental health, no matter what they have faced," said Crandall, assistant professor of public health at BYU.

Specifically, the study found that even when an individual had four or more adverse childhood experiences (called ACEs), having a high number of advantageous childhood experiences (Counter-ACEs) lessened the negative effect of ACEs on adult health. This is significant because the landmark 1998 ACEs study concluded that having four or more ACEs in childhood greatly increases negative health outcomes, including higher BMI, smoking rates, depression and chronic health conditions.

BYU study participants reported the number of ACEs and Counter-ACEs they experienced in childhood. ACEs include abuse, abandonment, having a family member in jail, alcoholism, mental illness, addiction, divorce or death. The full list of Counter-ACEs includes having good friends and neighbors, beliefs that provide comfort, liking school, teachers who care, having a caregiver whom you feel safe with, opportunities to have fun, feeling comfortable with yourself and a predictable home routine like regular meals and bedtimes.

Accoring to the study findings, published recently in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect, nearly 75 percent of participants had at least one adverse childhood experience, while the average amount of ACEs was 2.67 per person. The average positive experience score was 8.15, with 39 percent of people having experienced all 10 of those Counter-ACEs.

Participants also reported their current health through a variety of physical measures -- like BMI, fruit and vegetable consumption, physical exercise, sleep difficulties and if they smoked daily -- as well as their cognitive and mental health through executive functioning abilities, perceived stress, depression, internal locus of control, gratitude, forgiveness of self and challenging situations and familial closeness. Interestingly, researchers also found that the absence of Counter-ACEs led to poor adult health regardless of the number of ACEs.

"As bad as ACEs may be, the absence of these positive childhood experiences and relationships may actually be more detrimental to lifelong health so we need more focus on increasing the positive," Crandall said.

While many of the adverse childhood experiences in this study are affected by a child's family situation, Crandall said that "other adults in a child's life that are not the parent, like extended family, teachers, neighbors, friends and youth leaders all help to increase the number of counter ACEs and boosts lifelong health."

Crandall believes that increasing counter-ACES in the home is the easiest place to start and is working to educate the community about how to do this in conjunction with United Way. BYU professors Brianna Magnusson, Len Novilla, Carl Hanson and Michael Barnes were coauthors on the study.
-end-


Brigham Young University

Related Mental Health Articles from Brightsurf:

Mental health strained by disaster
A new study found that suicide rates increase during all types of disasters -- including severe storms, floods, hurricanes and ice storms -- with the largest overall increase occurring two years after a disaster.

The mental health impact of pandemics for front line health care staff
New research shows the impact that pandemics have on the mental health of front-line health care staff.

World Mental Health Day -- CACTUS releases report of largest researcher mental health survey
On the occasion of 'World Mental Health Day' 2020, CACTUS, a global scientific communications company, has released a global survey on mental health, wellbeing and fulfilment in academia.

Mental illness, mental health care use among police officers
A survey study of Texas police officers examines how common mental illness and mental health care use are in a large urban department.

COVID-19 outbreak and mental health
The use of online platforms to guide effective consumption of information, facilitate social support and continue mental health care delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic is discussed in this Viewpoint.

COVID-19 may have consequences for mental health
The COVID-19 pandemic appears to be adversely affecting mental health among hospitalised patients, the healthcare professionals treating them and the general population.

Mental health outcomes among health care workers during COVID-19 pandemic in Italy
Symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and insomnia among health care workers in Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic are reported in this observational study.

Mental ill health 'substantial health concern' among police, finds international study
Mental health issues among police officers are a 'substantial health concern,' with around 1 in 4 potentially drinking at hazardous levels and around 1 in 7 meeting the criteria for post traumatic stress disorder and depression, finds a pooled data analysis of the available international evidence, published online in Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

Examining health insurance nondiscrimination policies with mental health among gender minority individuals
A large private health insurance database was used to examine the association between between health insurance nondiscrimination policies and mental health outcomes for gender minority individuals.

Mental health care for adolescents
Researchers examined changes over time in the kinds of mental health problems for which adolescents in the United States received care and where they got that care in this survey study with findings that should be interpreted within the context of several limitations including self-reported information.

Read More: Mental Health News and Mental Health Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.