Around 2/3rds of the global pediatric population encounter adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). These include but are not limited to abuse, violence, household dysfunction, neglect, and mental health problems. While we recognize the problem, we don’t understand its implications. Research demonstrates that the consequences may be immediate or chronic and severe, extending into adulthood and later in life. It could scar you for life, and you may carry the bottled-up emotions leading to lifelong physical and mental health problems. We have explored the implications of ACE in children and how it manifests in adulthood.
Impact on physical, mental, and behavioral health
Reflection of trauma in children and way into adulthood
Trauma can have a huge impact on your child’s life. For example, a kid watching his mother treated violently and abused physically (domestic violence) can perceive the situation as threatening and feel helpless. The child will experience strong negative emotions, which could develop into nightmares, bedwetting, selective mutism, etc. Other adversities that could lead to trauma include bullying, accidents, the sudden death of a close family member, dealing with a family member who has mental health issues every day, parental separation, or divorce. Trauma affects children differently: while one recovers early, the other may develop chronic health conditions that need medical attention.
Several health conditions
Individuals with severe ACEs can easily develop chronic health conditions such as heart diseases, obesity, serious mental illness (bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), etc.), and stroke. A causal relationship has been established between children experiencing ACE and intellectual disabilities. Any frightening incident or trauma can result in cognitive delays, communication disorders and learning disabilities, and emotional dysregulations. Children can suffer from poor appetite, develop eating disorders, and have limitations in mobility and independent living. Individuals with ACE may die prematurely at a young age if the issues remain unresolved. What we see is the tip of the iceberg, and what we need to do is dive deeper and understand what the children go through.
Depression, stress, and psychological functioning
ACEs can lead to internal (e.g., depression, stress) and external issues (anti-social behavior). Psychological and neurobiological findings state that early-life ACE sets the threshold for developing depressive symptoms in adolescence and adulthood. This can impair their mental health, increase suicidal thoughts anxiety, and lead to toxic stress. Extended trauma or recurring threatful situations can over-activate a child’s stress response system leading to “toxic stress“ ultimately slowing down their body and brain functions, resulting in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They become hostile, some kids lie, end up shoplifting, some rebel, or even become violent. Watch out for such behavior and try to help when it is manageable, as it can lead to serious problems in adulthood.
Substance abuse and negative outcomes
ACE increases the risk of addiction and substance abuse in adults. Individuals get addicted to alcohol, drugs, and tobacco, and they most likely would have a history of physical or sexual abuse or parental substance abuse. Doctors suggest that it could be a response to ACE, just like your increased heart rate during exercise. Habits go way back, and it is extremely difficult to break out of them. This could lead to a lack of educational opportunities or poor performance at work. ACEs can potentially impact marriage and parenting quality. Children growing up with stress and anxiety may find it hard to build healthy and stable relationships. Individuals physically abused in their childhood are most likely to reflect the same behavior on their children. This is not to say that everyone who has had ACE will exhibit the same behavior, but it is good to have an insight that can help heal.
Violent crimes and hatred
A growing body of evidence reports that ACE has a causal relationship with violent crimes. It is speculated that childhood victimization results in aggression, hatred, and targeted racial/ethnic/sexual crimes. More often, juvenile offenders have a history of ACE. Efforts to address the root causes are required to reduce violent crime.
Awareness goes a long way
We need to bring this public health issue to the global platforms and raise awareness, which could help change the way people think about ACE. We can help create friendly, healthy, and safe communities and teach our children to live their life with full potential. We can use social media to promote the importance of mental health and encourage more people to address their concerns with ACE. Once you learn to acknowledge your feelings, you can choose to live your life in a positive, happy way benefiting you and others around you.
Ask for help and know that you are not alone in this
This generation of children face enormous challenges and we need to acknowledge and address their concerns and tell them it’s okay to open up. There is absolutely nothing wrong with reaching out for help. There are a lot of medical professionals, friends, and family who are willing to help resolve your issues. For instance, a warm and sensitive grandmother/grandfather or a caregiver is all you need. Research demonstrates that individuals who had help coping up turned out to have improved families, professional careers, positive parenting experiences, and good overall health.
Impact on behavioral health: Final Note
The goal is not to point out people with emotional crippling. We emphasize that there are beautiful people with ACE, as those without ACE. We want everyone to know what they are dealing with and try to guide them towards a better living. You can always check out more details at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention here.