During the month of May, I always try to write something for Mental Health Awareness month. This year, I want to talk about the effects of childhood trauma on adult mental health.
We now know that an Adverse Childhood Experiences Score (ACES) of four or more is a likely precursor to chronic disease, mental health issues, and addiction. This quote from the link above helps explain it:
“The more ACEs you have, the greater the risk for chronic disease, mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence. People have an ACE score of 0 to 10. Each type of trauma counts as one, no matter how many times it occurs. You can think of an ACE score as a cholesterol score for childhood trauma. For example, people with an ACE score of 4 are twice as likely to be smokers and seven times more likely to be alcoholic. Having an ACE score of 4 increases the risk of emphysema or chronic bronchitis by nearly 400 percent, and suicide by 1200 percent. People with high ACE scores are more likely to be violent, to have more marriages, more broken bones, more drug prescriptions, more depression, and more autoimmune diseases. People with an ACE score of 6 or higher are at risk of their lifespan being shortened by 20 years.”
We know that autoimmune diseases, such as the one I live with, can be triggered by acute stress. With my ACE score of 4, it’s no surprise that additional stress in adulthood was a trigger. I also spent many years in counseling and on medication for mental health issues (as is the case for some 87 percent of people, the meds did not help me — God bless those of you for whom they do work).
Anyway, one of the things I experienced for much of my childhood that contributed to my ACE score was bullying. Several years ago, I published a book of my essays, Les Pensées Dangereuses. This is one of those essays, pulled from a blog post on the topic. We need to understand, and act on the understanding, that “kids will be kids” is an inadequate response and start to do something about it. At the end of the post, I’ll include the song referenced in the essay.
On Bullying (Blog, 11/14/05)
When I was fired from KP (a blessing, I assure you all), my friend Donna sent me some useful links on workplace bullying to help me understand what I’d been going through for the better part of 18 months. Sadly, the only place on the planet where workplace bullying is unlawful is Quebec, where there is a provincial law against it. Other legislation has been introduced in various places, including my state, but nothing has been passed.
I have been thinking about why people like bully-bosses get the way they are, and I have concluded that they were probably playground bullies as kids. Perhaps they were victims of bullies, and decided that this is how one got ahead, but I suspect the former. I think that they have an ingrained pattern of meanness and putting-down that has just carried over into adulthood.
Here’s something else: I read a book some time back called Stop Laughing at Me, which was a study of bullying victims in elementary and middle schools. Teachers to whom the incidents were reported frequently responded with “Kids will be kids” or “Ignore them and they’ll stop”: platitudes which (I can assure you, as a former short, geeky, skinny kid) do nothing to stop the bullying at all. There is nothing more miserable as a kid than just wanting to be liked — to maybe have *one* friend — and being denied that because people who might otherwise like you are afraid that they’ll be next.
Guess what? “I’m afraid I’ll be next” carries over into the workplace when bullying gets involved. I had coworkers saying to me privately “What they’re doing to you is bullshit” or “I’m really sorry this is happening,” but not one of them would stand up and say “Knock it off.” That was a big difference between myself and my coworkers — I was unafraid to say “Knock it off.” For this, I was fired.
Anyway, here’s the point of my post. Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary), one of the dearest folks you’d ever want to meet (I know, ’cause I’ve met him), has developed a program called Operation Respect (http://operationrespect.org/). He came up with the idea after hearing a song called “Don’t Laugh at Me” performed at a local folk festival. He was moved by the first line, “I’m a little boy with glasses, the one they call a geek,” because that was him as a kid. He has added the song to Peter, Paul and Mary’s repertoire and, as I mentioned, developed this program. Its aim is to teach children how to treat one another with respect even if, and perhaps especially if, the other child is “different” somehow.
I was thinking about this program in terms of how its teachings could make today’s kids (tomorrow’s leaders, as we’re always reminded) better people. Perhaps 20 years from now someone will say to their subordinate, “You know, I feel very hurt by what I saw just now. Could we perhaps discuss a better way for us to handle a similar situation in the future?”
Let’s learn how to be blame-free, and caring. Let’s learn how to respect one another.
Let’s learn how to see only human beings in front of us.
(Public domain graphic image via Pixabay)