High cost of childhood trauma in Alaska is documented, especially in Alaskan Native people

Screen Shot 2015-04-10 at 9.28.16 AMAccording to two sobering reports that have been released on the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on Alaskans and on the state’s Native people, the prevalence of all of the eight ACEs measured was higher for Native Alaskans than non-Natives. Almost half of all Native Alaskans grew up with someone who had a substance abuse problem. The rate of sexual abuse is 32% among Alaska Native women, highest of any state’s ACE results. And the prevalence of four or more ACEs in the Native Alaskan community is nearly double that of non-Alaska Natives.

The reports give specificity to the health, economic, and social challenges that are widely recognized both in the general population and among Native Americans in the state. The data was derived from the optional ACEs module in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey conducted for the first time in Alaska in 2013.

Because of the strong demand for the information, the Alaska Tribal Health Consortium released an “Executive Summary” of the ACEs data on Alaska Native (AN) people in advance of the broader report, “Adverse Childhood Experiences: Overcoming ACEs in Alaska,” by the Advisory Board on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse and the Alaska Mental Health Board (AMHB /ABADA ).

The report on Alaska Native people compared ACEs with the non-Native Alaskan population while the comprehensive report compared all Alaskans with a proxy for a national sample (data from the five-state CDC report.) The prevalence of all of the eight ACEs measured was higher for Native Alaskans than non-Natives and significantly higher for five of the eight ACEs. Almost half of all ANs live with someone with a substance abuse problem, compared to approximately 30% of non-Natives. Comparing state and national data, Alaska’s measured rates were found to be higher on all 8 ACEs than in those five-state totals.

There was a significant difference between the prevalence of 4 or more ACEs in Alaska Native people compared to non-Alaska Natives—27.9% in contrast to 15.5%. The survey of the entire Alaska population compared to a proxy for a national population revealed that 17.3% of Alaskans have an ACE score of four or more compared to 15.2% in the national sample. If the number of Alaskans with an ACE score of 4 were reduced to the level reflected by the national survey—meaning 11,500 fewer Alaskans with a score of four—there would a highly positive impact on “many health, economic, and social outcomes,” according to the report.

The Alaska Native report found a similar prevalence of ACEs among AN females and males (i.e., divorce, verbal abuse, witness to domestic violence) except for sexual abuse which is estimated to be 32% for females compared to 11.7% for males. The extremely high level of sexual abuse throughout the state is a matter of grave and long-term concern for public health officials and family advocates throughout the state. Dr. Linda Chamberlain, director of Alaska Family Violence Prevention Project, visits with women throughout rural Alaska who report widespread sexual abuse—an experience she says is the norm rather than the exception.

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Patrick Sidmore

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Heavy childhood trauma ups risk of child/teen suicide 51x; so how does a community prevent it?

Dr. Linda Chamberlain lives in Alaska, where suicide rates are “typically double the national rate”, she says in lindathis blog post on the web site of the Scattergood Foundation. She’s the Thomas Scattergood Scholar on Child Behavioral Health this year. As founder of the Alaska Family Violence Prevention Project, she’s concerned about domestic violence and child abuse, which the CDC’s Adverse Childhood Experiences Study found are risk factors for suicide. She points out how ACEs increase the risk of suicide:

Early adverse childhood experiences [ACEs] dramatically increase the risk of suicidal behaviors.  ACEs have a strong, graded relationship to suicide attempts during childhood/adolescent and adulthood.  An ACE score of 7 or more increased the risk of suicide attempts 51-fold among children/adolescents and 30-fold among adults (Dube et al, 2001).  In fact, Dube and colleagues commented that their estimates of population attributable fractions for ACEs and suicide are “of an order of magnitude that is rarely observed in epidemiology and public health data.”  Nearly two-thirds (64%) of suicide attempts among adults were attributable to ACEs and 80% of suicide attempts during childhood/adolescence were attributed to ACEs.  Further, while system responses to family violence continue to place greater emphasis on physical forms of abuse, the strongest predictor of future suicide attempts in ACE research was emotional abuse.

Holy Toledo. These numbers are nothing but scary. And tragic.

One of the ways that communities can begin to prevent suicide is to understand adverse childhood

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In Alaska, trying to create a “new” normal in a place where childhood trauma is too normal

[Editor’s note: This very moving essay by Chantelle Pence, a family advocate for the Copper River Basin Child Advocacy Center and a consultant  at Copper River Consulting in Gakona, Alaska, originally appeared on the Anchorage Daily News web site.]

It was autumn. The time of harvest. I walked with my dad to the ridge to target practice with a .270 rifle. I got the target in my sights and pulled the trigger. I don’t know if I hit my mark, because as soon as the gun sounded, an unexpected feeling was triggered in me. My dad called my name as I took off stumbling and running back to the house. I was embarrassed. I was confused. I was heartbroken. I heard my own thoughts in my mind. “He didn’t have time to change his mind. … He didn’t have time to change his mind …”

The sound of the gunshot and the speed of the bullet brought up feelings that I didn’t even know I had. My young friend had shot himself just days before my birthday, earlier that year. I remember waking up to the news. I remember the next day. My mom hugged me and cried while I stood numb. I told myself that if I didn’t think about it, maybe it wouldn’t be true. I didn’t cry until the funeral, and then in the fall when I fired the gun.

Nearly two decades later, I found my own son with a gun, contemplating thoughts of suicide. I banged on the window of the cabin until he let me in. I took the gun but he wouldn’t let me take him. It was too late for that. He had been hurt too badly. The time to take him in my arms and love him well had passed. He was a young man who thought he had nothing to live for. When he was 10 he told me that he felt like he was in a brick room and he couldn’t see a way out. That was the first time he made reference to suicide. I didn’t know how to help him out of the space I had helped put him in. If I knew then what I know now …

I now know that what was once considered normal, for the time and place I was raised (and reared my own children in), was creating adverse childhood experiences (ACE). Studies have shown that adverse

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Alaska teen loses boyfriend to suicide, founds Hope4Alaska for year-long mission to save 100 people from suicide

Teressa Baldwin on the day she graduated from high school, with her best friend.

[Ed. note: By the time Teressa Baldwin, a recent graduate of Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka, Alaska, was 10 years old, she knew six people who had committed suicide. After her boyfriend committed suicide, she turned her grief into a campaign to prevent suicides among Native Alaskans, and founded Hope4Alaska. She gave permission to republish this amazing speech that she gave at a meeting to 350 members of the Alaska Association of Student Government last spring.]  

I was always told to say that I am honored to be here and also that if the words I speak offend you, I apologize.

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