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What kind of world would we have if all doctors approached childhood trauma the way she does?

When Dr. Nadine Burke couldn't figure out what why the kids in her clinic were so sick, she did some digging and here's what she found.

What kind of world would we have if all doctors approached childhood trauma the way she does?

We're obsessed with figuring out what's going to kill us.

When we discover a substance is dangerous, we avoid it and our doctors screen for its effects. When we discover a substance is deadly, our lawmakers ban it and we care for those who have been affected. But what are we doing about this dangerous substance?

Why don't we treat this deadly thing the same way we treat lead, arsenic, or radiation?


Childhood trauma is deadly.

The CDC and Kaiser Permanente developed a 10-point Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) questionnaire to determine respondents' exposure to childhood trauma.

It asked if the respondents had ever experienced:

  • psychological abuse
  • physical abuse
  • sexual abuse
  • substance abuse by a parent
  • domestic violence toward their mother
  • or criminal behavior in the household

before age 18.

Then they compared the responses with the medical histories of 17,000 Kaiser Permanente patients.

52% of respondents reported that they had experienced one of the types of traumas measured, and 24% of respondents reported that they had experienced more than one. Substance abuse in the household was the most commonly reported trauma.

The higher the ACE score, the more likely the patient was to have mental health issues. No surprise there.

For every psychological problem they measured, from depression to substance abuse to number of suicide attempts, there was a clear and unmistakable correlation with ACES scores.

But people with high ACE scores were also more likely to have physical ailments as well.

They found a statistically significant correlation between ACES score and heart disease, cancer, chronic bronchitis or emphysema, hepatitis, and history of broken bones.

What does this mean for you, your family, and your health?

No need to panic, but you do need to be proactive. Take the survey for yourself. If you know that you or your child has a high ACE score, find out how to lessen the effects of those traumas. You can start by talking to a licensed health care provider.

We're not good at dealing with childhood trauma. But we need to learn. Our lives depend on it.

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Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."

Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.

"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."

While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.

I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."

It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.

"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.

Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.

"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.

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