by Dr. Lorin Bradbury
Question: Recently, I was reading a book and the author wrote about something he called Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). What are ACEs? Is this really a mental health diagnosis? And do those experiences last into adulthood?
From the best I can determine, Dr. Vincent Felitti who conducted a study in the 1980s coined the term. He noted that the dropout rate of participants at Kaiser Permanente’s obesity clinic in San Diego was about 50%; but what was perplexing was that all of the dropouts had been successfully losing weight before they left the clinic.
Dr. Felitti interviewed individuals who had left the program, and discovered that a majority of 286 people he interviewed had experienced childhood sexual abuse. These findings suggested to him that weight gain might be a coping mechanism for depression, anxiety, and fear.
He and Dr. Robert Anda from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) went on to survey childhood trauma experiences of 17,337 Kaiser Permanente patient volunteers. Approximately 50% of the participants were female; 74.8% were white; the average age was 57; and 75.2% had attended college. Since they were all members of the Kaiser HMO, it is assumed that all had jobs and good health care. Participants in the study were asked questions about 10 types of childhood trauma that had been identified in earlier research literature: Physical abuse, Sexual abuse, Emotional abuse, Physical neglect, Emotional neglect, Mother treated violently, Household substance abuse, Household mental illness, Parental separation or divorce, and Incarcerated household member.
The CDC has found that as the number of ACEs increases so does the risk for the following: Myocardial infarction, Asthma, Mental distress, Depression, Smoking, Disability, Reported income, Unemployment, Lowered educational attainment, Coronary heart disease, Stroke, and Diabetes.
Concerning your question about whether ACEs is a mental health condition with a formal diagnosis, the answer is “No.” However, as you can see, it may be an antecedent to disorders that are diagnosable as mental health disorders.
There is a simple 10-point screening tool developed by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) that you may want to examine. It can be found online at: https://www.ncjfcj.org/publications/finding-your-ace-score/
Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected]