LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – The life cycle of a butterfly – egg to caterpillar to chrysalis and finally winged flight – is a common yet amazing example of life transformation from nature’s book.
There are many comparisons about that transformation that can be made to our human experience.
One comparison is the value of nurturing a young child; enabling it to take flight and reach its full potential in life. Every month of the year, we are reminded of various issues that impact the nurture of young children.
For instance, April was designated as Child Abuse Prevention Month, and May as Depression Awareness.
Service providers working across the service spectrum are involved in raising awareness of these impacts, as well as providing on-going family support services that assist children in Lake County to reach their full potential.
Recently St. Helena Hospital Clear Lake was awarded a Community Transformation Grant from the Centers for Disease Control.
This collaborative project to better population health and reduce chronic disease is bringing together public health, hospitals, clinics, behavioral health services, schools, tribal health, child welfare, family support, Lake Family Resource Center, First 5, People Services, NCO Community Action Agency and others to act as the Health Policy Cabinet for the project, entitled Climb to the Peak of Health.
The project is named to represent Mt. Konocti and the breathtaking beauty that awaits at the summit, thereby making each step to the top worthwhile.
Among the objectives of the Community Transformation Grant project is to create awareness of the important role that emotional health plays in chronic disease. Research shows that experiences during early childhood influence brain development and are pivotal for shaping future health and well-being.
Similar to humans, the butterfly starts life as a very small egg. The mother butterfly must lay her tiny eggs on just the right kind of leaves or the caterpillar will not eat the leaves and thus have no food to keep growing. Humans also need good nourishment through every stage of life to keep growing.
This not only means parents providing healthful food for children, but also developing safe emotional attachment, providing supportive guidance through the various stages of development, and showing children how to develop positive relationships with others.
What happens during a child’s formative years has lifelong implications. We are living in a time when one out of every five children is exposed to domestic violence in our country and about five children die each day due to child abuse. Home may be “where the heart is,” but for many, home is heart-breaking.
Relationships in the household between parents and children optimally provide the safety of a cocoon. A strong family provides a protective shield for children and a solid foundation that children can depend on. Life has ups and downs and difficult times, but children benefit from seeing their parents cope and bounce back. This is an important way they learn coping skills.
Children also benefit from extended family and friends who provide support when needed. A nurturing home life has a lasting influence on a child’s development. Like the butterfly, it enables children to leave the cocoon and launch into a healthy adult life in which they are able to fly on their own.
However, growing up in a home where safety and well-being is at risk, often takes a toll on the direction of one’s life, one’s health and collectively on the community.
Research from the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE) shows that a traumatic childhood takes a significant toll on health. Those suffering substantial childhood trauma have double the risk for early death compared with adults who had not endured adverse childhood experiences.
Types of trauma (known as ACE factors) include child abuse (sexual, physical, and emotional), neglect (physical and emotional), chaotic, dysfunctional households in which the mother is treated violently, or a household member is an alcoholic or drug user, or is imprisoned, or is diagnosed with a mental illness, or parents are separated or divorced and the child feels abandoned by one or both parents.
Each type of trauma is given a score of one, with 10 the maximum score. A person who was emotionally abused, physically neglected and grew up with an alcoholic father who spent time in prison, would receive a score of four.
Researchers note that someone with six or more of these factors may die 20 years prematurely because a strong link between these adverse childhood experiences and adult onset of chronic illness was found.
Those with ACE scores of four or more had significantly higher rates of heart disease and diabetes, as well as a 390 percent increased likelihood of pulmonary lung disease; 240 percent increased likelihood of hepatitis; 460 percent increased likelihood for depression; and 1,220 percent for suicide. Those with an ACE score of six had a 4,600 percent increase in the likelihood of becoming an IV drug user.
Adverse childhood experiences are common; 64 percent of those in the original ACE study conducted at Kaiser Permanente in San Diego had experienced one or more categories of the ACE factors.
In a small pilot study done in Lake County that percentage was higher – about 82 percent had one or more factors.
Research linking ACE factors to premature death is in early stages, but researchers note that even if cutting life expectancy by 20 years is not an exact statistic, the study definitely bears out that exposure to early trauma is an important public health issue.
Researchers from different disciplines have found that trauma alters the function and development of children’s brains and nervous systems and that a person’s experiences can turn on genes that manufacture chemical stressors that affect the brain.
That’s what’s happening in the brains of traumatized children who become hyper-vigilant, edgy, impulsive, and have hot tempers – and it's happening everywhere, including to our own children in Lake County.
They develop behaviors that get them into trouble and can lead to getting involved in risky behaviors such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol, eating too much, working too much, and more - all negatively affecting their health.
The cycle repeats and continues through multiple generations, shaping families and in turn impacting the communities we live in.
A healthy community is one in which emotional well-being at all ages is valued and opportunities that offer hope and healing are available for those struggling with unhealed emotions.
Why emotional health is important
There is a strong connection between the body and the mind – and the health of each aspect of your “self” is very important.
From an early age, we realize this when we feel nervous about something or experience “butterflies in our stomach” or sweaty palms.
These are examples of how thoughts affect the body.
– Stress is not something “out there” that happens to you (daily hassles, change, the environment, loss, work or lack of work, finances, relationships, inner conflict, etc.) it’s our internal responses (moods, physical reactions, etc.) to situations as we perceive them. The goal is not a stress-free life, but to keep stress within manageable limits so it doesn’t turn into “distress” (excessive stress that is destructive to physical, mental, and emotional health).
– Our attitude, internal self-talk, support systems, health practices, coping methods, ability to relax, ability to communicate, and the way we see ourselves all factor into how we manage stress.
– Researchers find increased risk for heart attacks in people with increased levels of worry, especially over financial and health concerns.
– There is a higher risk for heart disease in people who carry anger and in people who are depressed, according to researchers.
– People who are anxious, unhappy, or depressed are more likely to develop high blood pressure.
– Sleeplessness and lack of sleep contributes to high blood pressure and being overweight.
– People with strong support systems – such as friends, family, a pastor, physician, or counselor, along with community ties – cope better with stress.
– Physical activity protects physical and emotional health, relieves stress, and makes you feel good. Take a walk every day if you can.
– People who have peaceful minds and actively practice achieving inner peace are more content and happy with the lives.
– Using community resources to address issues of emotional well-being can afford opportunity for hope and healing.
For information on community resources contact Lake Family Resource Center, 707-279-0563.