Childhood trauma can lead to death, expert says

By Elise Mckeown Skolnick


Traumatic events in childhood can lead to lifelong problems, a leading researcher and pediatrician told about 220 local mental-health professionals.

“Each person’s reaction to trauma is different,” Dr. Brooks Keeshin said. “We know that. We respect that.”

But it’s important to understand the risk factors that result from exposure to childhood trauma, said Dr. Keeshin, a pediatrician and child psychologist at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

His presentation was part of a daylong childhood trauma conference Friday at the Holiday Inn here sponsored by D&E Counseling Center, Turning Point Counseling, Mahoning County Mental Health Board and Youngs-town State University.

Counselors at D&E have seen a growing number of children who have repetitive or single traumatic events in their backgrounds, said Greg Cvetkovic, executive director.

“The research is showing that it is more common than people think,” he said, adding it can impact children into adulthood.

“It may be important for mental-health professionals to realize that there is a lifelong impact of childhood trauma and to work to uncover that in their clients,” he added.

And that’s the take-away message from his presentation, Dr. Keeshin said.

“This is not supposed to be a downer talk,” he said.

By discussing childhood trauma and the potential for negative impact on mental and physical well-being into adulthood, they can use the information learned when dealing with children exposed to violence.

He cited numerous studies on adverse childhood experiences to back up what he said.

Adverse childhood experiences include physical, sexual and psychological abuse, witnessed domestic violence, family mental illness family substance abuse and family incarceration.

An initial study showed not only a psychiatric correlation but a medical one as well, he said. For example, people with more than three adverse childhood experiences were seven times more likely to report alcohol abuse and 10 times more likely to report using IV drugs.

At the same time, they were twice as likely to have cardiovascular disease, almost twice as likely to have cancer, 21/2 times more likely to have a stroke, and four times more likely to have lung disease.

Follow-up studies show similar results, he said.

The conclusion? Adverse childhood experiences can kill.

Trauma can lead some, though not all, children to social, emotional or cognitive impairment, he said.

Some of those individuals, to cope, will adopt behaviors that put their health at risk such as smoking, overeating and drug use. That can lead to disease, disability and social problems for some, including asthma and cardiovascular disease. That will lead to an early death for some individuals in that group, Dr. Keeshin said.

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