What are Adverse Childhood Experiences?
This blog post includes mentions of suicide and abuse. Please read with caution if any of these items triggers or upsets you.
Adverse childhood experiences (shortened to ACE), are stressful and traumatic events that have occurred in one’s lives during their childhood, from birth to 18. The more frequently that children experience ACEs, the more likely they are to experience toxic stress, an extreme form of stress that can have drastically negative effects that can lead to lifelong health problems. While they sound, and are, extreme, having ACEs is not unusual. According to the Center for Youth Wellness, nearly 35 million children in the US are affected by ACEs, 1 in 4 adults have at least one ACE, and 1 in 8 adults have at least four.
These kinds of ACEs and how people respond to them can be different, but they often include parents divorcing, abuse (sexual, physical, and/or emotional), violence, neglect, and living with a parent or guardian with a mental illness. The negative health effects that result from toxic stress include the physical, like heart disease and cancer, and the mental, like depression, substance abuse, and suicide.
Not every person who has gone through ACEs are going to immediately experience toxic stress and the damaging health effects, however. Genetics, receiving a good education in a safe environment, and having a support system all play a huge role in how the child responds to these situations and can even act as a barrier from toxic stress from occurring. This is also where resilience come in. We talked about resilience last week and how learning to overcome past experiences can help prevent negative health effects from getting worse if you want to learn more about how resilience works.
Finding the time, mental place, and space to build resilience and tackle adversity can be really hard though, especially for children and teenagers currently experiencing ACEs. One current example are the children who are being detained and put in detention facilities at the US-Mexico border. Migrant children are not only being separated from their parents (parent separation is an ACE in itself), but they are also being put in terrible conditions, being neglected, and experiencing abuse from the guards, making them experience multiple ACEs at once and providing no opportunity to build resilience.
The relationship between ACEs, toxic stress, and the health effects of toxic stress is strong, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that one has to lead to another. If you’ve experienced, or think you may currently be experiencing ACEs, doing things like finding a safe place just for you, having one person that you can talk to, or seeing a therapist are just a few activities you can do to strengthen your resiliency and prevent toxic stress or negative health effects from being at their worst.
If you want to learn more about how to help or if you want to donate about the situation going on across the US-Mexico border, you can do so through the charities listed here.
If you want to help or donate for children currently experiencing abuse, or if you or a loved one need to contact a hotline about your experiences, you can do so here.
Have you ever experienced ACEs? What are other ways that you think children and young adults can build resiliency to combat the effects of toxic stress?