Blueprints of our lives

Ever looked at a baby, smiled, given them a hug and imitated its gurgles and coos? By doing this, you were helping a few million connections join up in its brain! Amazing!

Research says that the first three years of our life lay down the design for our social, emotional and physical future lives. Before you are 3 years old, there are 1 million connections being made in your brain every SECOND! These connections continue throughout our lives, but never at this rapid rate. Of course, loving hugs (or cwtches as we call them in Wales!), positive and safe environments, and healthy relationships are optimal. BUT, if the interactions and surroundings are challenging and unsafe, the brain develops connections that effect the social, emotional and physical development in a less healthy way. These brain connections get stronger as the environments are reinforced - good and bad

Click the following image to watch a short that illustrates this: 

You may well ask 'What impact does this have on the child, teenager and adult?'  

The impact is massive as you can imagine. These experiences during childhood have been coined 'Adverse Childhood Experiences' (ACE's).

In Wales, 47% of individuals have suffered at least one 'ACE' in their lives. These are:

  • verbal, physical or sexual abuse
  • parental separation
  • living in a home with domestic violence
  • parental mental illness 
  • parental alcohol or drug abuse
  • parent being in prison

Research says that if someone has experienced four or more of these listed above, they are (amongst other things):

  • x4 more likely to be a high-risk drinker, 
  • x6 times more likely to have received treatment for a mental illness
  • x6 more likely to have caused or have a teenage pregnancy
  • x9.5 more likely to have felt suicidal or self-harmed
  • x11 more likely to have smoked cannabis
  • x16 more likely to have used crack/heroin
  • x20 more likely to have been to prison during their life time

All a bit alarming!

If you are intersted in delving deeper, click the image below to read the report.

So, what can we do? It is impossible to go into every home and change things to protect our babies and infants? How can we help?

It is important to remember that throughout our lives, 'stuff happens'. Everyone experiences difficult life events at some stage; divorce, death of a loved one, illness, unemployment to name but a few. We can't stop these things from happening, but we can improve our RESILIENCE to get through them. Our brains are ’plastic', and throughout our lives we can change and mould things, and the same applies to children and young people. By building in and teaching Resilience from a young age, we can help them walk through these challenging times and 'undo' some of the damage.  To help with this, and in partnership with Cardiff and Vale Health Board, we will be putting 10 Resilience Workers into schools over the next 18 months.  Resilience activities and skills for young people can include problem solving; knowing how to find help; playing sport  volunteering  finding belonging; having role models  justice and fair treatment; being in a youth club; celebrating faith; culture or community tradition; real friends; and healthy parent relationships. 

You can read more about ACEs and resillience here.

So, there is some hope after all. Our brain has been designed to change and re-wire itself - but sometimes this take a little help.

If you are interested in hearing more about this, or have any questions or comments, email jburns@mentalhealth.org.uk or call +44 (0)2921 679 400

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