The Aftermath of Childhood Trauma

Many people assume that the difficulties of their childhood are left behind once they become adults. However, the aftermath can be far more complicated. The Adverse Childhood Experiences study (ACES) began in the US in the late eighties, when the health insurance fund Kaiser Permanente started looking for causes of obesity in middle class Americans. Andes and Filetti from the CDC later collaborated and expanded the list of adverse experiences to cover ten types of adverse childhood experiences.

We now have compelling evidence from this and many other studies, showing that that the higher the number of ACEs, the more likely people are to suffer physical, emotional relational, social or mental health problems later. For example, with 4 or more ACEs, people are over four times more likely than the general population to experience depression, and fourteen times more likely to make suicide attempts. But they are also far more likely to have PHYSICAL health problems such as COAD and heart attacks later in life.

 

However, public health policy all over the world ignores this long term legacy of ACEs. Even organisations like Beyond Blue in Australia, originally established to help people with depression- appear to take little interest in depression as one aftermath of adverse childhood experiences.

Systemic awareness and preventative action is missing from public policy and therefore the intergenerational transmission of trauma is more likely

There is a “head-in-the-sand” mentality. In the same way the federal government is increasing the budget for fire fighters while ignoring the urgent need to take real action on climate change, there is a short-sighted and inadequate response to helping, protecting and enriching children and families.

It seems extraordinarily negligent that in 2020 most mental health services in Australia still don’t ask ” what happened to you?”. Instead they focus on risk or symptom management, usually via more medication- in the same way the federal govt relies on more firefighters instead of addressing the underlying causes of increasing bushfires- the climate emergency.

There is an urgent need for us to “BUILD BACK BETTER” after CV19 including  support for families. Organisations like the Australian Childhood Foundation and Blue Knot Foundation would benefit from supporting each other in their lobbying efforts, and by engaging support from people and organisations with the skills and influence to lobby the federal government re this, for example the Bouverie Centre, Berry Street and the like.

Urgently needed are better services and support for domestic violence and other problem behaviours, but also needed are efforts to build support communities for families who are struggling- to keep them connected rather than isolated- and to focus on teaching parents better emotional regulation, attachment and play skills where needed.