“If you study prison populations as I have, you see a common preponderance of childhood trauma and mental illness. The two go together.
So a lot of the people are being punished for being mentally ill and they are mentally ill because they were traumatized as kids.
So what we have in [prisons] are the most traumatized people in our society.”
— Dr. Gabor Mate
“When we look at why those kids are in the justice system, we find out they’re
there for trauma, toxic stress [that’s] undiagnosed and unaddressed."
— James Bell, Executive Director
W. Hayward Burns Institute
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, childhood trauma is defined as:
“The experience of an event by a child that is emotionally painful or distressful, which often results in lasting mental and physical effects.”
An ACE is an "Adverse Childhood Experience" also known as childhood trauma.
This term originated from the study created at Kaiser by Dr. Vincent Felitti and Robert Anda of the CDC.
According to the CDC: ACEs and associated conditions, such as living in under-resourced or racially segregated neighborhoods, frequently moving, and experiencing food insecurity, can cause toxic stress (extended or prolonged stress).
Toxic stress and ACEs can change brain development and affect such things as attention, decision-making, learning, and response to stress.
"Adverse childhood experiences are the single greatest unaddressed
public health threat facing our nation today."
— Dr. Robert Block
Former President of the
American Academy of Pediatrics
· 60% of adults report experiencing abuse or other difficult family circumstances during childhood.
· 26% of children in the United States will witness or experience a traumatic event before they turn four.
· Four of every 10 children in American say they experienced a physical assault during the past year, with one in 10 receiving an assault-related injury.
· 2% of all children experienced sexual assault or sexual abuse during the past year, with the rate at nearly 11% for girls aged 14 to 17.
· Nearly 14%of children repeatedly experienced maltreatment by a caregiver, including nearly 4% who experienced physical abuse.
· 1 in 4 children was the victim of robbery, vandalism or theft during the previous year.
· More than 13% of children reported being physically bullied, while more than 1 in 3 said they had been emotionally bullied.
· 1 in 5 children witnessed violence in their family or the neighborhood during the previous year.
· In one year, 39% of children between the ages of 12 and 17 reported witnessing violence, 17%reported being a victim of physical assault and 8%reported being the victim of sexual assault.
· More than 60% of youth age 17 and younger have been exposed to crime, violence and abuse either directly or indirectly.
· More than 10% of youth age 17 and younger reported five or more exposures to violence.
· About 10% of children suffered from child maltreatment, were injured in an assault, or witnessed a family member assault another family member.
· About 25% of youth age 17 and younger were victims of robbery or witnessed a violent act.
· Nearly half of children and adolescents were assaulted at least once in the past year.
· Among 536 elementary and middle school children surveyed in an inner city community, 30%had witnessed a stabbing and 26% had witnessed a shooting.
· Young children exposed to five or more significant adverse experiences in the first three years of childhood face a 76% likelihood of having one or more delays in their language, emotional or brain development.
As the number of traumatic events experienced during childhood increases, the risk for the following health problems in adulthood increases: depression; alcoholism; drug abuse; suicide attempts; heart and liver diseases; pregnancy problems; high stress; uncontrollable anger; and family, financial, and job problems.
People who have experienced trauma are:
· 15 times more likely to attempt suicide
· 4 times more likely to become an alcoholic
· 4 times more likely to develop a sexually transmitted disease
· 4 times more likely to inject drugs
· 3 times more likely to use antidepressant medication
· 3 times more likely to be absent from work
· 3 times more likely to experience depression
· 3 times more likely to have serious job problems
· 2.5 times more likely to smoke
· 2 times more likely to develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
· 2 times more likely to have a serious financial problem
Childhood abuse or neglect raises the chances of juvenile arrest by 59%.
— National Institute of Justice
Childhood abuse or neglect raises the likelihood of:
Criminal behavior in adulthood by 28%
Violent crime by 30%
— Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Hyper-arousal: increased heart rate, rapid or difficulty breathing, cold sweats, tingling, muscular tension.
Constriction: Constriction in body and narrowing of perceptions.
Disassociation or Denial
Feelings of helplessness, immobility and freezing
Intrusive imagery or flashbacks
Extreme sensitivity to light and sound
Exaggerated emotional and startle responses
Nightmares and night terrors
Abrupt mood swings (rage reactions or temper tantrums, frequent anger or crying)
Shame and lack of self-worth
Reduced ability to deal with stress
Panic attacks, anxiety and phobias
Mental blankness or spaced out feelings
Avoidance behavior (avoiding places, moments, activities, memories or people)
Attraction to dangerous situations
Addictive behaviors (overeating, drinking, smoking, drugs
Exaggerated or diminished sexual activity
Amnesia or forgetfulness
Inability to love, nurture or bond with other individuals
Fear of dying or having a shortened life
Self mutilation (severe abuse, self-inflicted cutting, etc.)
Loss of sustaining beliefs (spiritual, religious, interpersonal)
Diminished emotional responses
Inability to make commitments
Chronic Fatigue or very low physical energy
Immune system problems
Psychosomatic illnesses particularly headaches, migraines, neck and back problems
Depression and feelings of impending doom
Feelings of detachment, alienation and isolation (living dead syndrome)
Reduced ability to formulate plans
Re-enactment of the trauma
From Peter Levine’s “Healing Trauma.”
“Many of the kids who end up in the juvenile justice system, the vast majority of
them have been exposed to high doses of [childhood trauma].”
— Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, Surgeon General of California
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk
Trauma Through a Child's Eyes: Awakening the Ordinary Miracle of Healing by Peter A. Levine, Ph.D and Maggie Kline
The Deepest Well by Nadine Burke Harris M.D.
Lost Connections by Johann Hari
In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction by Dr. Gabor Maté
Center for Youth Wellness
"When people are behaving in apparently self-destructive ways, it’s time to stop asking
what’s wrong with them, and time to start asking what happened to them.”
— Dr. Robert Anda and Dr. Vincent Felitti