Granted, that’s not the headline of this article, but after reading it, I think it’s more accurate and less scary.
Oh, the actual headline?
The reason I had a different takeaway? Because when you really dig into the causes of many of the early deaths, you quickly realize that many, not all, of the reasons that people dealing with childhood trauma, are having bad health outcomes, is because of behavior.
Exposure to one or more experiences of adversity before the age of 18 years was considered and also included abuse, neglect, family violence, and economic adversity. The greatest proportion of outcomes attributable to CA were for suicide attempts and sexually transmitted infections, for which adversity accounted for up to 38 percent and 33 percent, respectively.
The largest number of early mortality are things that can be traced back to childhood adversity, but it’s not like a lot of childhood anxiety is a disease in and of itself. Yes, there can be physical impacts, and those can be terrible, but before we start thinking of childhood adversity = early mortality, we need to consider the reality of what often happens with children growing up in adversity, especially child abuse survivors. We know, for example, that many survivors don’t even tell their story, let alone get any kind of therapy or help to process their trauma for 20-30, or more, years. That’s a lot of years of making decisions from a trauma background instead of from a healthy perspective. Would it not make sense then, that we’d be looking at more suicide attempts, dangerous sexual behavior, drug use, etc.? Of course not. Anyone who’s spent enough time talking to survivors would not be surprised by this at all.
And yet, we also commonly look at those facts and wish “that survivors should come forward sooner”, without any kind of acknowledgment of just how difficult we make that. Every time we doubt a child who discloses, every time our first reaction is to defend an abuser, every time we tell ourselves that “kids are resilient, they’ll get over this”, or even “they’re young, they won’t even remember it”, instead of getting them to help early, and often, we simply add to these numbers. We lengthen the time between the adverse events, and the resources needed to overcome them, and we increase the number of poor health outcomes.
So, when I see a study like this, I don’t feel defeated, I don’t feel like we are all just broken and doomed to poorer outcomes. I see the possibility that there is room to change this current reality, but it’s going to take changing how we deal with childhood adversity and doing it in an open, honest, and immediate way.
High levels of childhood adversity don’t have to be an early death sentence. We can, and should, intervene early in order to prevent many of these outcomes. We just need the determination and will to make it happen.
Do we have that?