Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Childhood traumas can shape adult experiences

As details become available about the Moving Wall veterans' memorial, the more appreciative I am that our local Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) has organized its appearance here in June.

The latest word is that there's going to be a tent with counselors who specialize in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This could be hugely beneficial -- not just for our veterans, but also for civilians who are in recovery from prolonged stress such as domestic violence or child abuse.

Dean Gotham, our local VVA president, recently talked about PTSD on Steve and Catherine Elias's radio show. Gotham said that Vietnam veterans served their country twice: first of all because they saw combat in the Vietnam War and, later, when they returned to the states, they were the first to speak openly and the first to seek assistance for war's psychological impacts.

Nearly everything that psychologists now know about PTSD has been due to Vietnam veterans.

Clincians and researchers have additionally distinguished between short-term and "chronic" traumas that continue or repeat for months or years. To distinguish the effects of the latter, psychologists apply the term "Complex PTSD."

Survivors can endure various difficulties in connection with long-term trauma, such as the abuse of drugs or alcohol to numb their feelings and thoughts. For information, see the National Center for PTSD, www.ncptsd.va.gov/.

The Lake County Child Care Planning Council recently drew attention to an Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) questionaire that seeks to document links between the impact of childhood experiences (prior to age 18) with the difficulties that adults encounter in taking proper care of themselves.

"An ACE score of 4 dramatically increases likelihood of smoking, depression, attempted suicide, hepatitis or sexually transmitted diseases," according to Shelly Mascari with the child care planning council. Lake County professionals are encouraging local responses to the anonymous questionaire, which can be accessed from a link at www.lakecountychildcareplanning.com.

The survey was adopted by doctors Vincent J. Felitti and Robert F. Anda at Kaiser Permanente in San Diego. The doctors were conducting a weight-loss program for several women whose weight was life-threatening. Several women who had made excellent progress began to put the weight back on; when questioned by the doctors, many of them said they felt safer at a heavier weight. The doctors discovered that nearly all the women had suffered from child abuse.

Out of interest, I took the survey, which posed a series of questions about situations of abuse or neglect in the respondent's household.

My reactions to the survey were mixed. I was supportive of its premise that adverse childhood experiences can have devastating consequences. I was concerned, however, that the survey dealt exclusively with at-home situations that involved a parent or other adult. There was no mention of a child being bullied by his or her schoolmates -- even though the time spent at school equates to a full-time job.

That's not a criticism of local professionals, who had no control over composition of the survey. If anything, I support their intention to document local needs. I hope, however, that the doctors at Kaiser will expand their initial research because nearly every situation that the survey asks about in the setting of a respondent's home could be applicable toward bullying at school.

Please consider taking the survey if you have not already done so. Each "Yes" answer given in the survey identifies an area of potential concern and gives our local professionals that much more information about how to meet local needs.

The survey encourages respondents to follow up with a trusted physician, minister or counselor or to connect with a family support program through the Lake Family Resource Center, (888) 485-7733.

Published May 4, 2009 in the Lake County Record-Bee

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