Childhood Trauma and the Church

BackToSchoolBlues

I’ve done a fair amount of research over the past few years on Kaiser Permanente’s ACE Study. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study is one of the largest investigations ever conducted to assess associations between childhood maltreatment and later-life health and well-being. The study is a collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente’s Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego.

More than 17,000 Kaiser Permanente employees volunteered to undergo a comprehensive physical examination to provide detailed information about their childhood experience of abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction.

Ten categories were determined to be adverse childhood experiences. Five are personal:

  • Physical abuse
  • Verbal abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect

Five are related to other family members:

  • A parent who’s an alcoholic
  • A mother who’s a victim of domestic violence
  • One or no parent in the home (divorce, death, abandonment)
  • A parent who’s incarcerated
  • A family member with mental illness

The ACE Study findings suggest that certain experiences are major risk factors for the leading causes of illness and death as well as poor quality of life in the United States. It is critical to understand how some of the worst health and social problems in our nation can arise as a consequence of adverse childhood experiences.

More importantly, the ACE Study provides insight about why so many people are physically, emotionally, and spiritually broken in our churches and communities. 

According to Kaiser’s findings, a stunning link exists between childhood trauma and the chronic diseases people develop as adults, as well as social and emotional problems. The study’s researchers came up with an ACE score to explain a person’s risk for chronic disease. Think of it as a cholesterol score for childhood toxic stress. You get one point for each type of trauma you’ve experienced. The higher your ACE score, the higher your risk of health and social problems. For instance,

  • For women, the risk of need for antidepressants by the age of 50 increases to 100%.
  • With an ACE score of 4, the risk of COPD in adulthood increases by almost 20%.
  • With an ACE score of 4, the risk of serious financial problems in adulthood increases by approximately 23%.
  • With an ACE score of 4, the risk of of teen pregnancy increases by 40%.
  • With an ACE score of 4 or more, the risk of being raped later in life increases by more than 30%.

My best friend, a woman who has clung to her faith in God since childhood, scores 10 out of 10. Social workers who have met her and know her story call her a “miracle” and consider it beyond remarkable that she has lived into her fifties.

It’s time for the church to recognize the value, dignity, and role of the broken and hurting in our midst.

Jesus came for the lost and hurting, not so we could minister to one another.  Our programming should reflect integrate the needs of families with special needs children, those with mental and physical illness, caregiving ministries, and knowledge of community resources. Our pews are filled with adults, young people, and children, who are suffering from domestic violence, abuse, hunger and neglect, mental and physical illness, caregiver fatigue, pornography addiction, eating disorders, addictions, and many other wounds and are searching for help and hope.

I, for one, am enormously grateful for a church that ministers to needs such as these, and provides counseling and practical support for those in need. Churches also need to equip each of us to step into roles of loving service as God leads.

For practical resources for the hurting, visit MusicfortheSoul.org.

How do you think the church can better meet the needs of those who have been influenced the the categories of the ACE Study?

PTSD AWARENESS: PTSD in the Pew

Photo Credit: photographyblog.dallasnews,com

Photo Credit: photographyblog.dallasnews,com

Most people associate PTSD with veterans returning from war. They don’t see PTSD as an issue that affects babies, children, teenagers, young adults, professionals, in fact, anyone of any age, background, race, or from any demographic region can be affected by PTSD.

PTSD is far more common than we think.

If you attend a rural church of 100 people, at least 5 adults and adolescents in your small congregation suffer from PTSD. If you attend a church of 1,000 in an urban area like Atlanta or Chicago, approximately 250 adults and adolescents in your congregation are struggling with PTSD.

According to ptsd.ne.gov, approximately 4% of U.S. adults and 5% of adolescents have PTSD in the course of a year. This statistic does not take into account younger children who also often suffer from PTSD, and much higher percentages in larger cities.

Unfortunately, rates of PTSD in urban areas are higher than for soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq (from 11-20%).

PTSD is primarily a war-related condition, right? Wrong. 

 

The most common cause of PTSD among the general population is car accidents. In fact, up to 30% of people who experience car accidents will go on to develop symptoms of PTSD. 

PTSD can be caused by any event that causes paralyzing fear and overwhelms the brain’s ability to cope. PTSD can be caused by

  • natural disasters
  • technological disasters
  • pre-birth child loss
  • adoption (the child’s or mother’s experience)
  • childbirth
  • preverbal childhood medical trauma
  • childhood medical trauma
  • adult medical trauma
  • neglect and abandonment
  • domestic violence
  • sexual abuse
  • secondary trauma (first responders, social workers, spouses)
  • caregiving
  • grief
  • bullying

PTSD is a brain illness rooted in chemical and biological causes that typically require trauma-specific treatment.

Unfortunately, the church often treats mental illness as a spiritual problem. However the brain is an organ, and its function is rooted in the same created biological and chemical processes as the rest of our organs. Diabetics take insulin and other medications for their diabetes. People go for physical therapy for rehabilitation following strokes and brain injuries. Those living with PTSD also require therapy and rehabilitation. That need does not connote spiritual weakness. Unfortunately, “guilting” and counsel people away from needed PTSD treatment is too often the position of the church.

People who suffer from PTSD need compassion, patience, understanding from the church, and friends willing to listen.

Christians who suffer from PTSD feel guilty.

They feel unfixable.

They feel alienated.

They often suffer with symptoms like depression, addictions, obsessive-compulsive disorder, extreme anxiety, hyper vigilance, and other coping mechanisms that have helped them navigate life. These coping mechanisms begin to fail as the years pass.

People with PTSD find it enormously difficult to move past their PTSD symptoms unless they find effective trauma treatment, which the church often minimalizes or even demeans.

The church needs to provide greater understanding of and resources for those with mental illnesses like PTSD.

Mental illness is brain illness and deserves focus in the church as a stewardship issue–stewardship of body, soul, and spirit.

 

Additional information is available in our FREE ebook, “The Truth about Trauma,” which can be downloaded from the pages of this blog.

For more information and to inquire about training your church on biblical foundations in mental illness, contact Kristen Kansiewicz, author of “On Edge: Mental Illness in the Christian Context.”