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Are painful experiences from your past slowly killing you?
Painful or traumatic experiences from our past can lead to serious physical and mental health issues when left untreated. - photo by Chris Adams Richards, LCSW
Many of us had painful experiences as a child or teen, and while it may seem obvious these experiences impact our mental health, we now know that there are some experiences which can also negatively impact our physical health.

A study (Adverse Childhood Experiences study) that focused on one's home environment, experiences, family members' mental health, divorce and whether or not love and support was felt, proved that these factors do in fact matter in your physical health.

Why should you be interested in this study? Why should you care? These findings are incredibly important on multiple levels. The authors of the study created the ACE Pyramid to explain why these experiences impact our health.

Childhood experiences lead to social, emotional and cognitive damage. That devestation can lead to the adoption of health risk behaviors and potentially chronic stress from untreated PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) or other mental health issues. This can lead to disease, disability and social problems.

There is an undeniable link between our childhood experiences and our risk for various diseases, disorders and behaviors, and that the higher your ACE score, the higher your risk. The good news is that intervention at any point, whether in childhood or as an adult, can help decrease risk.

Curious what you or your children's ACE score is? You can take this quiz to find out.

More than half of the participants answered yes to at least one question, according to the study's findings. More than one in five reported three or more ACEs. Those with scores of four or more showed the greatest risk -- four to 12 times higher risk than for those who reported just one ACE -- for the following behaviors or diseases:

  • Alcoholism and alcohol abuse
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Depression
  • Fetal death
  • Health-related quality of life
  • Illicit drug use
  • Ischemic heart disease (IHD)
  • Liver disease
  • Cancer
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Multiple sexual partners
  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
  • Smoking
  • Suicide attempts
  • Unintended pregnancies
  • Early initiation of smoking
  • Early initiation of sexual activity
  • Adolescent pregnancy
For adults, getting treatment for traumatic experiences decreases the risk of developing the above issues. And for those who are currently experiencing the impact of past trauma and struggle with any of the issues above, treatment now can have a dramatic, positive impact on how we will manage stress, heal from our physical and emotional issues and potentially change the direction of our lives!

Treating the underlying traumatic experiences from the past -- or increasing the safety and health of kids who experience trauma, leads to increased mental and physical health for individuals, families and our communities. This means the potential for fewer doctor and hospital visits, fewer sick days from work, more productivity and healthier families.

How can we help kids who are at risk?

Parents, teachers and medical professionals can use this information to provide support to children who have been exposed to ACEs. These children need adults to intervene, work to decrease their risks by increasing their safety at home and promote healing from the abuse or neglect they have already experienced.

There are additional resources with further information on the ACE Study and how to use it, along with resources for the prevention of abuse.
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