The following article was provided to Emporia News by Lauren Grizzard and was written as part of her Master's Degree program in Clinical Social Work at VCU.
Lauren is a lifelong resident of Emporia and graduated from GCHS in 2012. After high school Lauren graduated from the University of Virginia in 2015 with BA in psychology and will graduate from VCU with my Masters in Social Work in May.
She is currently interning at Jackson-Feild Behavioral Health Services, and plans on pursuing her LCSW licensure upon graduation. Lauren's professional interests include working with children, families, and Survivors of trauma.
Let’s take a survey. Have you ever…
o Been cursed at, insulted, put down, or humiliated by your parents?
o Hit, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at you?
o Been hit so hard it left marks or caused injury?
o Felt like no one loved you or thought you were important?
o Worry that you didn’t have enough to eat?
o Had parents who were too drunk or high to care for you?
o Had parents who divorced?
o Seen one of your parents get hit?
o Lived with an alcoholic or drug user?
o Lived with someone who was depressed or who had attempted to commit suicide?
o Lived with someone who went to prison? (Felitti et al., 1998)
Add up your YES responses. That number is your Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) score, a sum of childhood traumas and adverse experiences in your life that has significant public health implications (Felitti et al., 1998). We will return to this number later.
When living in a small town like Emporia, it’s common to know all of the “latest news” of the community. In a short trip to the grocery store, we are able to hear everyone’s latest medical concerns, learn about who passed away from cancer last week, and we take notice of who has gained a significant amount of weight in a short period of time. In that same supermarket, we hear about the stories of trauma and adverse experiences of those individuals in our community. We hear about the cases of child abuse, the prevalence of poverty, and the lack of affordable health care. We become infuriated when we hear about children who do not have access to healthy meals. We offer our pity to the couple getting a divorce, and we gawk at the drained mother whose life circumstances have contributed to her mental breakdown and suicide attempt. These dialogues are familiar to us all. However, in our conversations, we unconsciously separate medical issues from psychological issues, categorizing and assigning value as if they are inherently distinct: medical issues and psychological issues. Why do we find ourselves doing this and why does this separation matter?
In the early 1990s, researchers began to look at how trauma or “adverse childhood experiences” affect individuals (Felitti et al., 1998). The results were alarming! The study showed that individuals with an ACE score of 3 or more have a huge risk of chronic health problems such as obesity, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, suicide, and alcoholism (Felitti et al., 1998). Unfortunately, in the United States, 1 out of every 4 adults has an ACE score of three or more, suggesting that many adults have been exposed to adverse experiences (Redford, 2016). In Greensville County, like most of the nation, we see a prevalence of these chronic health problems with 1 in 3 individuals suffering from obesity, 1 in 5 individuals being diagnosed with diabetes, 1 in 5 individuals suffering from excessive alcohol use, and teenage pregnancy rates that are three times the state’s average (Catlin, Jovaag & Dijk, 2015). We also have health statistics that support the anecdotal stories of trauma and adverse experiences of the individuals in the community: 1 in every 4 children live in poverty, 1 in 2 children live in single-parent households, and 1 in 4 children are food insecure (Catlin, Jovaag & Dijk, 2015). Is there a connection between the psychosocial adverse experiences and the high chronic health issues that our community is suffering from? We cannot be certain, but the statistics are suggestive that yes, there is a connection (Redford, 2016).
So, what’s next? What does this connection between trauma and chronic health problems leave us with in our little community? More than likely, you have been or you know someone who has been exposed to adverse experiences that increase the risk of experiencing chronic health issues. Take a look your results from the survey above, and imagine the results of the people in your community. This is not an “us” versus “them” problem. Rather, it is our problem. Our communities are suffering from this infectious germ. Our schools are not fairing well, our obesity rates are high, and our teens are depressed (Bornstein, 2016). Just as insurance companies would much rather provide coverage for the flu shot rather than treat the flu, it is more cost-effective for our community to prevent and treat the trauma-exposure, rather than tackle the chronic health concerns that can develop if left untreated.
So why aren’t we paying more attention to this issue? What would happen if more people acknowledged how trauma and adverse experiences are impacting these our lives—at the doctor’s office, in the classroom, or in the community? More doctors and mental health professionals are acknowledging that medicine and psychology are parallel, not separate fields, and we need the community to believe and support this, too (Bornstein, 2016). Understanding trauma and these adverse experiences would change the ways in which we tackled bigger problems, such as improving our test scores and battling obesity. We know that there are no easy answers. There is no magic formula for solving our community problems. However, it is imperative that we acknowledge the role of trauma and its health impact rather than allowing it to continue to silently infect our community.
Bornstein, D. (2016). “How Community Networks Stem Childhood Traumas.” The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/17/opinion/how-community-networks-stem-c...
Catlin, B., Jovaag, A., & Dijk, J. (2015). “County Health Rankings” Key Findings Report. Madison: WI: University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
Felitti, V.J., Anda, R.F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D.F., Spitz, A.M., Edwards, V., & Koss, M. P. (1998) Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults: The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 14(4), 245-258.
Redford, J. (2016). Resilience: The biology of stress and the science of hope [Motion Picture]. United States: KPJR Films.