Health & Science

CDC Links Childhood Trauma With Depression, Unemployment, Cancer

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An eye-opening new health analysis shows that children who experience trauma have a higher chance of developing conditions such as depression, drinking, smoking, and more as adults. They’re also more likely to reach lower education levels and face unemployment.

Referred to as adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, the trauma in question can include everything from witnessing violence to substance abuse and even having a parent with a mental health condition. The data was collected via the 2015-2017 survey data of more than 144,000 adults from 25 states.

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who analyzed the data, estimate there is a link between ACEs and 14 negative health conditions and socioeconomic factors, with at least 61 percent of survey respondents experiencing one ACE and nearly 16 percent reporting at least four or more types. 

These experiences also are closely tied to at least five of the top causes of death in the U.S.: heart disease, cancer, respiratory diseases, diabetes and suicide, said Anne Schuchat, M.D. the principal deputy director at the CDC, on a call with reporters.

Black adults and those from other non-white races and minorities are more likely to experience four or more types of ACEs, which researchers say could be tied to “living in underresourced neighborhoods and from historical and ongoing trauma caused by systemic racism or multigenerational poverty.”

“We think that multiple types of ACEs increases the risk or the impact – so witnessing abuse and experiencing loss of a parent, two (ACEs) might be worse than just one,” Schuchat said. “We know prolonged exposure is worse than a single exposure – and every individual is different in terms of how a particular adverse experience impacts them.”

To break the multigenerational cycle of adverse childhood experiences, the study authors point to the importance of state and community programs designed to provide parental support and increase access to reliable health services. Experts say addressing childhood trauma is key to reversing the rates of opioid, alcohol, and other substance abuses.

The former Content Director at Parenting, and several other brands, Ana Connery is a writer and content strategist whose work appears in USA Today, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, Cafe Mom/The Stir, Momtastic, and others.