Let’s create more caring communities for mental health | Editorials

“What’s wrong?”

If you’ve struggled emotionally in public, with family or friends, you may have been asked this question. Maybe you’ve criticized your child after losing patience in the cereal aisle of the grocery store and a stranger gives you a questioning look. Or perhaps you have asked this question when working with children who have behavioral crises.

What if instead you asked, or were asked, “What happened to you?”

This is a critical question many in the mental health field are asking to allow for open-ended answers in a trauma-informed way. It also helps to better understand the behavior or emotion and how to help, rather than criticize or punish.

May is Mental Health Month. And now more than ever, it’s important to recognize how your mental health is shaped by experiences and environments over time – both adverse and supportive.

Negative childhood experiences. Toxic stress. Trauma. Maybe you’ve heard these terms, or maybe they’re new to you, but what do they really mean? Negative childhood experiences (ACE) are traumatic or stressful events before the age of 18, such as physical, emotional or sexual abuse, drug or alcohol abuse problems in the household, separation from a parent due to incarceration or unaddressed mental health issues. A parent.

When children experience trauma, it overwhelms the brain’s ability to cope. Over time, this toxic stress can reduce a child’s ability to manage their emotions and can make it difficult to learn, play, or respond to difficult situations. If left untreated, as children exposed to trauma grow into adults, toxic stress can increase the risk of domestic violence, heart disease and suicide.

The ripple effects of ACEs on individuals are complex, often with generational impact, meaning we need holistic, multi-generational solutions. To address ACEs, we must also understand and address the community conditions in which children grow up, such as the cyclical impact of poverty, discrimination and community violence.

These are further exacerbated for communities of color due to long-standing inequalities, resulting in barriers to opportunity.

Although ACEs are common, the good news is that research shows that when caregivers provide physically and emotionally safe environments for children and teach them to be resilient – ​​to solve problems, build nurturing relationships and manage their emotions – children negative effects of ACEs can be reduced. A child’s resilience is built and their well-being is strengthened through community connections and opportunities to grow.

Bloom Kentucky is a statewide initiative focused on addressing this negative cycle of worsening “soil” or environments, for a child’s “tree” of experiences by acting on the causes depths of ACEs. We can and must cultivate a Commonwealth where all children can thrive.

Achieving this goal will require strong families, supportive community members and bold legislators.

The Kentucky General Assembly has taken important steps to combat ACEs, such as investing in access to quality child care and school mental health supports.

Yet more needs to be done to support children now and allow our youngest Kentuckians to thrive, such as enhanced investments in home visiting and early childhood programs, minimizing the impacts of parental incarceration on children and an additional commitment to creating trauma-informed environments. .

By working together – from our cities to our mountains and from our farms to our suburbs – we can lessen the impacts of childhood adversity and prevent harm from happening in the first place. Let’s start by creating more caring communities. The next time you see a frustrated parent or struggling child, start with “what happened to you?” rather than “what’s wrong with you?”

Barry Allen is President and Treasurer of The Gheens Foundation, Inc.

Bloom Kentucky is an initiative supported by grant-making organizations across the Commonwealth who are all invested in ending negative childhood experiences – learn more about BloomKentucky.org.

The Bloom Kentucky Advisory Board consists of the Brown-Forman Foundation, Central Kentucky Community Foundation, Community Foundation of West Kentucky, Community Foundation of South Central KY, Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky, Gheens Foundation , the Greater Clark Foundation, Lawrence & Augusta Hager. Educational Foundation, Jewish Heritage Fund and Marilyn & William Young Charitable Foundation.

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