Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are a critical issue for public health. ACEs refer to traumas an individual goes through during childhood or adolescence, which impacts their lives negatively. Traumatic episodes include child negligence, broken families, child abuse, and environmental factors, such as economic hardships, which cause adverse experiences. Research shows that ACEs are the primary cause of psychological problems, drug abuse, violence, and heart diseases in the US (Zarse et al., 2019). Some individuals are aware of ACEs, while others consider it a regular occurrence. This essay discusses the impact, prevalence, and outcomes of adverse childhood experiences in the US and indigenous populations.
ACEs Study and Measurement
ACEs study investigates different childhood traumas that cause adverse childhood experiences, while ACE measurements quantify the level of adversity using the ACE score tool. ACE study tallies different traumatic experiences where difficult childhood has higher scores and is associated with a greater risk of having problems in the future (Zarse et al., 2019). The study investigates traumatic experiences, such as child abuse, violence, negligence, abandonment, having a relative in jail, economic hardships, and sexual violations before attaining 18 years. ACE scores use questionnaires that include ten questions that assess ten different childhood traumas in the ACE study. Five questions assess personal experiences in the questionnaire, while five assess external social factors (Zarse et al., 2019). The survey questions are straightforward with ‘Yes or NO’ answers and the final score is cumulative of all risks.
Impact and Outcomes
High adversity scores lead to higher risks of acquiring chronic diseases, psychological and social problems. ACE scores of 4 and above indicate serious issues that could have detrimental effects on health and well-being. For example, a study on chronic illnesses reported that ACEs increase depression by 46%, hepatitis by 24%, suicide attempts by 80%, and heart conditions by 39% (Zarse et al., 2019). ACEs affect children’s mental health, social relationships, careers, and academic performance. ACEs cause high levels of stress, which increases stress hormones, causing children to have fright and flight modes. The most typical mental disorder associated with adverse childhood experiences is anxiety disorders that affect the development of healthy relationships with peers, lack of trust, and fear of adults. Social anxiety affects school attendance and engagement in academic activities, hence poor grades.
Often, adolescents with symptoms of adverse childhood experiences relieve their fear, shame, and anxiousness by indulging in high-risk activities, substance abuse, alcoholism, and sexual promiscuousness. For example, studies show that marijuana and nicotine are stress relievers and enhance focusing while alcohol has a numbing effect on the brain’s memory (Zarse et al., 2019), which helps to forget. Most individuals indulge in sexual promiscuities and have multiple sexual partners due to insecurities in relationships. Having multiple sexual partners can cause sexually transmitted infections which are fatal and economically hard to maintain.
Teenagers who score above 4 are dangerous because higher scores are subject to escalation into adulthood. Mainly, these adults become violent physically and sexually, abuse children, and engage in criminal activities. For example, adults with a score of 10 admit to having anger issues, lack of empathy, solve most problems with violence, and do not engage in any social relationships (Zarse et al., 2019). Living with violence and lack of social ties causes depression, resulting in suicidal attempts. Additionally, toxic stress can cause gene mutation, which can pass on to other generations, creating genetic stress toxicity (DeLisi et al., 2017). Preventing ACEs will help save many lives and the social well-being of the most affected populations.
Prevalence of ACEs
Preventing ACEs can reduce the risk of acquiring fatal illnesses, such as depression, stroke, and heart illnesses. Studies indicate that over 1.8 million adults suffering from heart diseases and twenty million cases of depression cases are a result of ACEs (Zarse et al., 2019). Women and children from minority ethnic groups have a higher risk of having ACEs than those from racial backgrounds. According to (Zarse et al., 2019), individuals from minority populations experience more than four types of ACEs in their lifetime. Reports show that more than half the population in the US experience ACEs, where 5 out of 10 have more than one type of ACEs. Poverty and economic hardships are the leading cause of adverse ACEs among minority populations (DeLisi et al., 2017). Other causes include broken families, negligence, and child abuse. In the US, all states report alcohol abuse, violence, and mental illness as the most common cause of ACEs (Zarse et al., 2019). The District of Columbia has higher reports of violence in the states as the common cause of ACEs in children.
ACEs in Indigenous People
Indigenous people and low-income populations in the US report the highest number of childhood adversity cases and have higher ACEs scores than the non-indigenous and economically stable populations. Research shows that most indigenous youth with criminal offenses report higher ACEs scores than non-indigenous youths (Zarse et al., 2019). Indigenous people with mental illnesses also have high ACE scores, particularly in adult women. The commonest traumatic cause of higher adversity scores among indigenous people is homelessness and economic hardships (DeLisi et al., 2017). Indigenous people also have high adversity cases due to limited access to formal healthcare services, which can help in mitigating the adversity of traumatic experiences.
Individuals from indigenous populations regard low scores of adversities as a normal condition, while most of them experience more than two types of abuse to consider the experience as adverse. Therefore, indigenous people have more chronic illnesses, mental instability, and violence due to high Ace scores. Formal healthcare mediation in indigenous communities can help to reduce risk factors associated with chronic, mental, and heart illnesses due to high ACE scores. For example, healthcare systems can test victims of ACEs for substance abuse, provide intervention, treatments and follow up on medication, which can reduce the severity of associated health problems.
Having an ACE score of 4 and above is detrimental to one’s health, social relationships, and mental wellness. I would strive to create more positive relationships that enhance my social life. For example, I can organize dinner arrangements with colleagues and family, which creates adequate bonding. Moreover, keeping away from electronic gadgets helps reduce loneliness and seclusion and become more socially active. I would engage in conversations with other people having ACEs and encourage them to form positive social connections. Exercises reduce stress and anxiety, thus, I will exercise regularly to prevent the adverse effects of stress and depression. Other methods of handling my ACEs include having healthy foods for nutrition, enough sleep to avoid stress, and avoiding negatively influential companies such as violent and alcoholic groups. I will also be mindful of people living with ACEs by encouraging, forming relationships, and sharing insightful experiences.
Adverse childhood experiences have severe effects on individuals’ well-being physically, emotionally, and socially. ACEs affect people all over the world, particularly indigenous communities and individuals with economic hardships. Children and adolescents with high ACE scores are likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, which results in adverse health conditions. High ACE scores escalate with age, where adults tend to be violent, unemotional, alcoholic, and antisocial, which leads to suicidal attempts and chronic health problems. Proper healthcare is crucial in mitigating the detrimental effects of ACEs, especially in indigenous communities. Furthermore, individuals can learn self-care and how to live with others who with same problems.
DeLisi, M., Alcala, J., Kusow, A., Hochstetler, A., Heirigs, M. H., Caudill, J. W., Trulson, C. R., & Baglivio, M. T. (2017). Adverse childhood experiences, commitment offense, and Race/Ethnicity: Are the effects of crime, race, and ethnicity-specific? International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(3), 331. Web.
Zarse, E. M., Neff, M. R., Yoder, R., Hulvershorn, L., Chambers, J. E., & Chambers, R. A. (2019). The adverse childhood experiences questionnaire: Two decades of research on childhood trauma as a primary cause of adult mental illness, addiction, and medical diseases. Cogent Medicine, 6(1), 1-24. Web.