Trauma is one of this country’s most urgent public health issues. In a Center for Disease Control Report of 2019, Americans who had experienced adverse childhood experiences (“ACEs”) were at a higher risk of dying from five of the top ten leading causes of death. The reported noted that one in six children across the United States had experienced four of more kinds of adverse childhood experiences. An “adverse childhood experience” is defined in a landmark 1998 study by Kaiser Permanente as physical, sexual and emotional abuse; living with household members who abuse substances, had mental illness or were suicidal, violent treatment of mother/stepmother; and criminal behavior in the household or imprisonment of a household member.
The National Institute of Health reports that trauma affects a person’s mental and physical health, employment, education, and social functioning. Childhood trauma, particularly those that are interpersonal, intentional and chronic are associated with greater rates of PTSD, depression, anxiety and antisocial behaviors, including alcohol and substance abuse disorders Secondarily, exposure to a traumatic event or a series of traumatic events (e.g. child maltreatment) activates the body’s biological stress response system. Stress activation has biological, behavioral and emotional effects.
The majority of abused or neglected children have difficulty developing strong, healthy attachments. Children who do not have strong healthy attachments have trouble controlling and expressing emotions and may react violently or inappropriately to situations. A child with a complex trauma history may have problems in romantic relationships, in friendships, and with authority figures such as teachers or police officers.