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Member Research and Reports

Johns Hopkins: For Better Adult Mental and Relational Health, Boost Positive Childhood Experiences

Positive childhood experiences, such as supportive family interactions, caring relationships with friends, and connections in the community, are associated with reductions in chances of adult depression and poor mental health, and increases in the chances of having healthy relationships in adulthood, a new study led by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers suggests. This association was true even among those with a history of adverse childhood experiences.

The findings, published September 9 in JAMA Pediatrics, could encourage public health efforts and policies aimed at boosting positive childhood experiences in conjunction with reducing adverse childhood experiences.

Researchers have long known that adverse childhood experiences, such as physical or emotional abuse or neglect, substance abuse and mental health problems in the household, exposure to violence, and parental incarceration or divorce, can have lifelong negative effects on physical and mental health.

The association between adverse childhood experiences and health effects is complex. Some individuals with multiple adverse childhood experiences thrive while others do not. And, many without adverse childhood experiences have health issues associated with adverse experiences, perhaps due to a lack of positive childhood experiences.

Dr. Christina Bethell, professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health and director of the Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative, is the paper’s lead author.

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