Spring has sprung. The cooler temperatures, rain, and gray days can bring about feelings of sadness, lethargy, anxiety, and other troubling feelings. Thankfully, the days of backyard barbecues, libations, beautiful weather, new experiences, and friendly faces will soon be upon us. With those warm, sunny days comes plenty of sensory stimulation and a lot of pressure to socialize and conform. With ample opportunities to socialize, comes the risk of adverse events (from our distant and recent past) bubbling to the surface. We all have bad days. Some of us have a nagging low level of adversity whereby we kick ourselves all day for doing something we regret. Some experience adversity at a higher volume due to having witnessed, or directly experienced traumatic and/or adverse events. These folks may develop addictions and other unhealthy behaviors to cope with memories, thoughts, feelings, and sensations from these events.
In 2009, the findings from the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study conducted in the mid-nineties created quite a stir for medical professionals and communities around the world. The study was a collaborative effort between Robert F. Anda, MD at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Vincent J. Felitti, MD at Kaiser Permanente. The study investigated the link between adverse experiences in childhood (including, but not limited to crime and abuse) and biopsychosocial health issues (including, but not limited to addiction and illness) in adulthood. This essay is a call to arms for medical professionals and the community to be more thoughtful about the way we treat one another.
In conclusion, the study makes the point that society and the medical industry have become obsessed with the quick fix—“medication and impressive technologies”—to treat adversity that has not been proven to benefit from these techniques. Social taboos discourage us from discussing sexual abuse at a dinner party and six to twelve minute appointments with your primary care physician are difficult to adequately identify, much less address your adversity needs. Take the time to discuss your ACE(s) with a professional mental health practitioner (i.e., Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Psychologist, etc.) and notice the shift in your capacity to treat yourself and others with more respect. Prepare yourself to be more present at that barbecue, concert in the park, or dinner party by minimizing the power of adversity from your past.
Felitti, V.J. and Anda, R.F. (2009) The Relationship of Adverse Childhood Experiences to Adult Medical Disease, Psychiatric Disorders, and Sexual Behavior: Implications for Healthcare.
R. Lanius, & E. Vermetten (Eds), The Hidden Epidemic: The Impact of Early Life Trauma on Health and Disease (pp.77-88). Cambridge University Press.