I first learned of the CDC-Kaiser Permanent Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, “one of the largest investigations of childhood abuse and neglect and later-life health and well-being,” in 2009. I was shocked to learn the original study was conducted at Kaiser Permanente San Diego from 1995 to 1997 with two waves of data collection. Over 17,000 Kaiser members participated by completing confidential surveys regarding their childhood experiences and current health status and behaviors at the time of their physical exams.
The stunning findings were reported in the May 1998 volume of the American Journal of Preventative Medicine (AJPM) in the article titled, “Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults.”
Think about it — that’s almost 20 years ago!
And yet the enormity of what that study has shown and the traction the ACEs movement has gained in the last decade is not as well-known as it should be. I say, “should be,” because ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) are at the root of a host of a person’s health and quality of life — concerns that can have a significant impact in the workplace.
Why Raising Workplace Awareness About ACEs | Adverse Childhood Experiences Can Improve Employee Health and Workplace Performance
The primary physical and emotional health impacts of ACEs (often referred to as childhood trauma) on an individual are related to toxic stress. These ACEs-related toxic stress impacts can include: depression, anxiety, headaches, chronic shoulder/muscle/back pain, migraines, stomach disorders, sleep problems, skin conditions, developing a substance misuse disorder, and a host of other physical and emotional ailments.
The workplace impacts of employees having untreated ACEs were reported in “Childhood Abuse, Household Dysfunction, and Indicators of Impaired Adult Worker Performance,” Anda, R.F., et al., The Permanent Journal, 8(1), 30-38, and showed:
Chronic back pain in the workforce is estimated to cost US businesses as much as $28 billion per year;5depression and its work-related outcomes—absenteeism, reduced productivity, and medical expenses—are estimated to cost as much as $44 billion per year;6 and chemical dependency is estimated to cost $246 billion per year.7 These massive losses occur despite existence of workplace safety programs and the most expensive system of medical care in the world.8
To be clear – the above is not a direct connection to ACEs-related toxic stress, however many of the above are manifestations of ACEs-related kinds of toxic stress. The following illustrates how this connection works:
Additionally, according to “Childhood Abuse, Household Dysfunction, and Indicators of Impaired Adult Worker Performance,” Anda, R.F., et al., The Permanent Journal, 8(1), 30-38,
Our findings suggest that employers and HMOs have both the need and the opportunity to work together against the long-term effects of childhood abuse and household dysfunction. Exposure to such adverse circumstances is likely to lead to massive financial expenditures for health care as well as to economic losses attributable to poor work performance. Adverse childhood experiences are a source of many problems—somatic manifestations of health and social problems—treated by occupational medicine specialists. The traditional search for organic causes of illness and injury among workers is expensive for employers, who must pay higher insurance premiums for their workers. In addition, this traditional process is expensive for health care organizations, because much of such medical care is ineffective or inefficient: diagnostic procedures are used without sufficient understanding of the common psychosocial origins of symptoms, multiple office visits and specialty referrals are used in repeated efforts to resolve the same problem, and drugs are prescribed to little or no effect. Most important, workers suffer when their health problems and health-related social problems remain unresolved. If even a small fraction of the economic and human resources currently spent on these conventional approaches was used to identify and address the root origins of these problems in the workforce, we could reasonably expect to find more effective ways to improve worker health, well-being, and performance [emphasis added].
Three Resources to Help Employers Raise Employee Awareness About ACEs
To the point raised in the bolded statement above, “…was used to identify and address the root origins of these problems in the workforce, we could reasonably expect to find more effective ways to improve worker, health, well-being, and performance,” sharing the following two resources as printed downloads or via company social networking sites or via in-house communications can help.
The first is an Infographic from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and titled, “Adverse Childhood Experiences — Looking at How Affect Our Lives & Society.” It summarizes the major findings of the ACE Study with powerful visuals to make the findings easily relatable.
The second resource is an 8-page PDF created by Interface Children & Family Services and ACEs Connection Network and titled, “Beyond Trauma, Building Resilience to Adverse Childhood Experiences.” As Christine Cissy White describes it, “This brochure is comprehensive but not so long that it remains in the ‘I’ll get to it later pile.”
And for an all encompassing list of resources and ACEs-related issues, check out Jane Stevens’, Founder & Publisher, ACEsTooHigh.com and ACEsConnection.com, article, “ACEs Science 101 (FAQs).”
Feel free to contact me with questions or suggestions for additional resources.