A recent Radio 4 programme ( ‘Unhappy Child, Unhappy Adult’ ) looked at a study conducted in the USA that suggests acute childhood experiences (ACEs) are a major cause of serious illness in later life. The criteria for what constitutes an ‘acute childhood experience’ are listed here – but briefly it means abuse and neglect. The study showed that 50% of 69 year olds with no ACEs are free from serious disease. Of those with 4 or more ACEs only 20% are without serious disease.
This is fascinating enough. And also deeply worrying. Childhood poverty is increasing dramatically in the UK, and whilst we can’t assume that poverty causes abuse and neglect, only an idiot would imagine it plays no part.
But what the programme revealed next was even more incredible. When the data was explored in more detail the researchers were astonished to discover that the very act of completing the ACE questionnaire reduced a subject’s likelihood of visiting a doctor the following year by a dramatic 35%.
The study suggests the importance of early intervention. Even the most hard headed capitalist can see how early intervention will reduce costs to the health service in later years. But even more significantly the study suggests that exploring early childhood experiences with adults will decrease their need to see their doctor at all.
Stress makes us ill and for some of us talking about our lives helps us heal. How long will it take for these messages to reach the policy makers?