The following commentary published this month in Lakeview Living, a limited distribution magazine on the south side of Battle Creek that I wrote on behalf of The Arc of Calhoun county. I tried to make the most of my allotted 500 words. Free free to share. Or better yet, feel free to write your own posts for this blog and publication that will consider it. Still a lot of awareness-building to do even as we shift our focus to implementing solutions.
We throw a lot of medication and money at our community’s most stubborn health and social problems — and often wonder at the lack of progress. But what if the solution was something far more basic? What if the answer lies in how we treat one another?
Science is telling us that just might be the case.
The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, better known as the ACE Study, is far from basic. Published in 1998, it was the first study to correlate negative childhood events such as abuse, neglect and family dysfunction with lifelong health and behavioral problems.
Drs. Robert Anda and Vincent Felitti, the authors of the study, even created an index of trauma exposure to help assess patients’ risks for some of the health problems. Your “ACE score” helps you assess your own exposure to childhood stress and provide insight into your own health risks.
Here’s how it works: The ACE questionnaire consists of a set of 10 yes-or-no questions: When you were growing up, did a parent or adult in the house beat you? Beat each other? Did any of them sexually abuse you? Emotionally ignore you? Were any of them alcoholics? Drug users? Incarcerated? Mentally ill? Did you ever feel that you didn’t have enough to eat? Were you neglected?
The higher the number of yes answers, the higher your risk. People with a score of four or higher are about six times more likely to struggle with depression and seven times more likely to become alcoholic. They’re twice as likely to have heart disease, twice as likely to be diagnosed with cancer. They’re about 12 times more likely to have ever attempted suicide. People who have experience six or more ACEs can lose 20 years of life.
Scary stuff, but there’s good news: The ACE study and the 20 years of research has uncovered strategies that significantly reduce those risks. In our workshops, local experts emphasize that the ACE score is not a diagnostic tool, but a tool to help predict risks. And the medical research is clear: What is predictable is preventable.
When we talk about prevention, we talk about resilience. Resilience is the ability to adapt positively to adverse events, and what the science tells us is that resilience isn’t something that we’re born with. It’s something that gets built through supportive relationships. Ideally, those relationships happen at home, but whole communities can become resilient, too.
Understanding how that happens is the essence of becoming a healing or “trauma-informed” community. Over the past 12 months, a small group of local people of have committed to making Battle Creek such a community. We’ve worked with schools, medical practices, health workers, churches and law enforcement, but we’re just getting started. We could use your help.
Creating a trauma-informed community requires a paradigm shift that can only come when the residents of our community demand it. That’s you.
If you’d like to be part of this movement, we’d love to hear from you.
Michael McCullough is board president of The Arc of Calhoun County, co-chair of the Great Start Collaborative/BC Pulse Healthy & Developmental On Track Action Team and co-creator of thewellbc.org, a resource for healing in Battle Creek and beyond. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org