Adverse Childhood Experiences – The Sad Truth

Okay, so I keep mentioning Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) in my posts and blogs, but why? Well, there is an abundance of research on ACE’s now after a study was done in the mid-90’s that showed a correlation of adverse childhood experiences to all sorts of health risks; smoking, drugs, alcohol, sexually transmitted diseases, higher suicide rates, and heart disease. One of the biggest things that stuck out to me was that people with 6 or more ACEs died nearly 20 years earlier than those without. That’s insane! I spoke about this in a previous blog, and I’ll say it again. Just because you have ACEs, doesn’t mean you ARE GOING TO die earlier, there’s just a higher chance of it if we don’t heal from those experiences. 

So, what is the ACE study anyway? 

The original ACE study was done by accident when Dr. Felitti, Chief of Kaiser Permanente’s Department of Preventive Medicine was conducting an obesity study. He made a mistake when questioning one of the patients and instead of asking her how old she was when she became sexually active, he asked how much she weighed. She responded 40 lbs. No, that wasn’t a typo… she weighed 40 lbs, because she was only 4 years old when her father started sexually abusing her. In fact, out of the 286 people that were interviewed for the obesity study, most of them had been sexually abused as children. Needless to say, he was confused and disturbed. 

Wanting to understand more about this correlation between sexual abuse and obesity, Dr. Felitti joined Dr. Anda, a medical epidemiologist from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and they completed what we know now as the ACE study. Yes, it’s a very old study being done in the 90’s, but there are more updated studies that have been done and have confirmed what these doctors claimed at the time; there is a correlation with health outcomes and  individuals with higher ACE scores. 

The ACE study had over 17,000 middle-class Kaiser Permanente members in San Diego and were asked if they had any of the 10 pre-chosen adverse experiences before their 18th birthday. The experiences are broken into three categories: Abuse, Household Challenges, and Neglect. Here’s a breakdown the CDC provides to show the adverse experience to which they reported being exposed. 

Think about the subjects of the study. Think about how disproportionate it is to our current society. Now, imagine how these numbers could change if you add in some of our modern technology to the mix(social media, cyber-bullying), different socio-economic statuses, etc… You might get even more alarming results. There is currently a new ACE study under way, and should be completed sometime this year (2020). When that happens, I’ll be sure to add any updates to this post. Now, I could write pages and pages of information on ACEs, but if you want to learn more on your own, check out this link to the CDC website, which covers a lot more info. 

A huge point I want to make is that ACEs are common. About 3 in 24 people have 4 or more aces. That’s 12.5%, and these numbers are likely underreported because, to be honest, traumatic experiences are subjective. What impacts me, may not impact you and vice versa. And there are a lot of factors to determine this. Even this might seem like a small percentage,  but think about our population… there are roughly 327 million people in the U.S. alone. 12.5% is 40+ million people. That’s a lot. Think about your group of friends or acquaintances. Chances are, you know multiple people who have experienced 4 or more ACEs in their life. And now you know me. 

I have 7 ACEs. SEVEN. And yes, it has impacted my life, but I don’t fear that I will die early because I have spent a lot of my life healing, removing negativity from my life, even my own family, for my own sanity. Which is why I now want to help people who have experienced some of the same things I have, and who are struggling with the realities of their past. Sometimes we have to make tough decisions for our well-being, and it took me a long time to not feel guilty about caring for myself for once. I do plan on sharing some of these experiences in later posts, but when there are so many things that happen, it’s tough to figure out where to start. I promise, I’ll get there. For now, let’s get back to ACEs. 

I’ve talked about how common they are, but most people don’t know exactly how impactful they are to our lives. 

Just soak in this image. I can’t find one aspect of our lives that it doesn’t impact. And the more ACEs, the more impactful it is. Remember the video from my previous post? ACEs are not just a mental health issue, this is a public health issue, and it’s getting worse. Why? Because most people who were abused continue the cycle with their own children. This is generations of abuse being passed down through families, creating this cycle that’s very difficult to break. I’m going to show you another image that just hurts my heart. 

Now you can see why I say it’s a public health crisis. Most doctors don’t screen for ACEs, yet it can be the underlying reason for many health-related issues people have. Instead, we medicate people for diseases or mental illness, when we are not addressing the culprit: Adverse Childhood Experiences. Now, my opinion may not mean anything to some people, but this isn’t just my opinion, this is science. And yes, it’s not the only reason people might have health issues, but through this research, we can see how impactful it actually is. There are multiple studies and will continue to be studies done on this subject because the results have been so alarming. 

So please, if you are struggling with anything, or are currently in an abusive situation, please get help. Most insurance providers cover therapy, and if you don’t have money or insurance, there are tons or free resources for domestic violence, child abuse, suicide prevention, and drug/alcohol abuse. There are really great people in this world who want to talk with you and help you understand your feelings. Please, please know that there is support. You are not alone, and your life is so important. 

If you know people who make you feel like you’re weak for getting help, show them this research, and the TONS of research on how trauma affects our future. Tell them you don’t care what they think, and get the help you need to be happy and healthy. Even in modern times, there is still a stigma about mental illness, but most people don’t realize that they are the cause of their children’s “illness”. They continue to make them feel like crap for being “broken” or “crazy”. So much so, we start to believe it. I want to tell you, our brains are AMAZING, and are capable of doing so much for us, good and bad. Make it good as much as possible. Don’t let anyone make you believe that you aren’t worth it. You are. You are amazing. You are beautiful. You are a person. You deserve life. And that life you deserve, also deserves to be well and happy, regardless of your past (or present). I know some people don’t agree with this statement, but I don’t care. We are killing ourselves off because we can’t break this cycle. So, break it. We need to or we, as a human race, won’t be around much longer. Start the process to heal your mind, and when you have your own kids, teach them how to be well. It starts with you. You have the choice to break the cycle. You can’t do that unless you heal yourself first. Today is a new day, and if you haven’t started yet, it’s never too late. 

There are so many resources I want to share, and will create a whole page for you, but here are a few very relevant resources: 

The National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1-800-700-7233 (SAFE)

National Dating Abuse Helpline – 1-866-331-9474

National Child Abuse Hotline/Childhelp -1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)

Child Welfare League of America – 202-638-2952 

Children’s Defense Fund – 202-628-8787

Love is Respect – Hotline: 1-866-331-9474

Break the Cycle – 202-824-0707

National Sexual Assault Hotline – 1-800-656-4673 (HOPE)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)

National Center for Victims of Crime – 1-202-467-8700

National Human Trafficking Resource – Call: 1-888-373-7888 | Text: HELP to BeFree (233733)

If you want to find your ACE score, click here. Leave your score in the comments and let’s discuss how it might impact you. If you don’t want to share, that’s fine too. Just know that you are not alone and there are many ways to help those of us who have experienced trauma as a child. 

**Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. I do extensive research on the subjects that we talk about because I am becoming a mental health professional with the intention of helping those who have experienced trauma learn to cope throughout their life. If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, or are currently in treatment, please see your doctor with any medical questions.**