More work needed to help adult survivors of childhood traumas, Leeds health experts say
Public health experts in Leeds have claimed they may be able to “change lives for generations to come”, with a new strategy aimed at helping the survivors of childhood trauma.
The comments were made during a discussion on how to help children and adults who have suffered from traumatic events in early life that may have affected their development.
It was also claimed that trauma could even be passed on genetically via a parent, and that this would have to form some part of the decision-making of health chiefs in the city.
The discussion took place in a meeting of Leeds City Council’s Health and Wellbeing Board this week.
Dr Jane Mischenko, a commissioner at Leeds CCG, told the meeting: “The more adversity you experience as a childhood, the greater the risk of problems in later life.
“You are likely to take some unhealthy lifestyle choices – you may take substances, alcohol, you may join a gang because you want to belong, and you open yourself up to health problems.
She added that around half of all adults in the UK are thought to have experienced at least one traumatic childhood event, but also claimed that these experiences can even be passed on genetically.
She said: “There is some new science that is very interesting. We can actually inherit the trauma of our ancestors. There can be molecular memory in our genes that, if triggered, leads to trauma.
“It’s not inevitable. There can be protective factors around you, but if you are in an environment which triggers those genes, then that’s a risk.
“We need to be really understanding about what we can do as a city to stop that triggering.”
The study of epigenetics states our genes can be switched on or off without changing our DNA code itself – as extra pieces of information can be added to our bodies’ building blocks in response to changes in our environments. It is theorised that these changes could be passed on between generations.
Dr Mischenko added: “There is a power imbalance ingrained in trauma. If you are a child, you are dependent on the adults in your life – that is something we need to be conscious of in the work that we do.”
According to a document from council officers, a steering group is to be set up and run by Leeds City Council and local NHS providers, focussing on adults with lived experiences of adverse childhood experiences and trauma, which would “help shape their strategy and programmes”.
It added that the group was working on another paper with trauma groups which would bring forward new policy which would help those who have suffered.
Public health specialist Emmerline Irving added: “It’s not something that has to stay with you forever – trauma can be overcome. We have people with lived experience, and people who tell us about their road to discovery.
“It’s a big long journey and I am passionate about it – if we can do this, we can change lives for generations to come.”
Board member Coun Stewart Golton (Lib Dem) asked: “It all sounds very rational in understandint the impacts of experiences on people’s lives/ I’m finding it difficult to understand where you are on that journey to understand what everyone needs to do.
“It all feels very abstract at the moment – I don’t know what success looks like.”
Ms Irving added: “We are pulling together our strategy.
“You need to make that culture change first. The real tangible outcomes will be coming in the next few months in the strategy.
“When we presented this work – there was a member of the public who said ‘can people stop giving me tablets? nobody has asked me what is wrong, or what the root cause of my problem is. They are just giving me pills and medication – I don’t need that, I just need somebody to talk to me.’
“Often people don’t want you to fix their problems, they just want you to talk to them. This really is about changing the way we approach everybody.”
Leeds City Council executive board member Coun Fiona Venner (Lab) said: “Trauma affects every aspect of someone’s life. When we talk about what success looks like, if you go into any alcohol treatment centre or prison, you will meet survivors of childhood trauma.”
Support the YEP and become a subscriber today. Enjoy unlimited access to local news and the latest on Leeds United, With a digital subscription, you see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Click here to subscribe.