Science is beginning to reveal how adverse life experiences affect our health and can also influence the health of our kids and grandkids. This is why I’ve created the Health and Adverse Life Experiences Survey (the HALE survey).
An important risk factor for chronic health conditions is that life experiences turn genes on and off. The process of how genes express themselves occurs through epigenetics.
Have you experienced adverse life experiences or trauma or wondered if a life event played a role in your health (good health or developing a chronic health condition)? Learn what types of life events may have affected your health in this survey.
The HALE survey can give you new ways of thinking about and working with symptoms you may have or with health conditions in your kids. This can introduce you approaches for working with different types of trauma, which I mention later in the post.
The health survey is anonymous, takes about 10 minutes and will also help me with my research, offering a glimpse of why some people with a history of trauma don’t develop health problems.
You can scroll through the box below or take my survey in a full-sized new window.
Please email me if you have any problems with the survey.
The HALE Survey Question
The Problem: Not everyone with a health condition has a history of trauma. And not everyone with a history of trauma develops a chronic health condition. A predominant cultural and medical view is that most people who experience trauma have no significant effects or health problems. The research shows we underestimate the amount of trauma people experience as well as the different effects trauma can have. This is because trauma is much more subtle than we think. So I’m taking a first look with this survey.
The Question: “Do people with chronic physical and/or mental health conditions have more adverse life experiences or traumatic events than people who are in good health?”
Protective Factors: This survey also looks at support, which can protect from, decrease and delay the effects of trauma.
Updating from Psychological to Epigenetic
Health care focuses on emotional causes of emotional health conditions and physical causes of physical health conditions.
As a result, research in trauma generally focuses solely at effects of adverse life experiences on mental health.
There’s a need for a closer look at the role of adverse life experiences in chronic physical illness because life experiences affect our genes to have a wide range of effects on health. It’s epigenetic rather than psychological.
Different Types of Trauma
The types of trauma in this survey are rarely recognized in medicine but affect risk for chronic health conditions including chronic illness, mental illness and other problems such as addictions (to work, to substances, to exercise, to food etc).
This survey looks at risk factors in childhood such as abuse and neglect, which were found to greatly affect risk in the adverse childhood experiences (ACE) studies. It also expands their 10-item list of questions to include events such as medical trauma, accidents, hospitalizations and surgery as well as events earlier in life when we were in the womb and events even farther back in our parents’ and grandparents’ lives (see a paragraph about each type below the survey).
Take the Survey Even In Great Health
Your answers are especially important if you are in great health and have never had – or have recovered from – a health condition that lasted for more than 3 months.
Most people live through some kind of adverse life experiences as part of being human and not everyone gets sick. Having a good support system can protect us from the effects of trauma or we may develop symptoms at some point because we’ve experienced one trauma too many.
Your answers will help my research and give me a sense of this.
Types of Adverse Life Experiences
Multigenerational Trauma. Therapist Mark Wolynn works with the effects of trauma that happened in our anestors’ lives – events such as World War II and the Holocaust, surviving betrayal, witnessing horror, or a parent who never recovered from the loss of a child or a miscarriage. He describes how multigenerational trauma affects kids and grandkids and how it heals, “Many of us walk around with trauma symptoms we can’t explain. Whether sudden onset or chronic, we have anxieties, depressions or obsessive thoughts we’ve never gotten to the bottom of. We never think to connect our personal issue to what’s happened to our parents or grandparents. We’re now learning that traumas experienced by previous generations can be biologically inherited …”
Events in Pregnancy, Birth and Infancy. When mothers have adverse life experiences during pregnancy, when giving birth and in the first year of their children’s lives it can affect the long-term health of their babies. Examples of difficult events include the death of a loved one; exposure to financial stress, divorce or violence; illness and other stress. Premature birth is also a risk factor for poor health later in life. I introduce this field of research and how helping moms recover from traumatic events can help their children recover their health. Columbia University is studying how supporting mothers of premature babies helps moms while also decreasing cognitive and developmental symptoms in their babies.
Trauma in Childhood. The adverse childhood experiences (ACE) study looked at 10 specific types of trauma including physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect, dysfunction in the household and loss of a parent. These types of adverse life experiences greatly increase risk for chronic health conditions as well as substance abuse and more Other kinds of trauma in childhood, many of which are much more subtle, have also been found to be risk factors for chronic illness (hospitalizations, falls, being bullied, growing up in an unsafe neighbourhood etc).
Parent-Child Relationship Trauma. Jennifer Aniston talks about her relationship with her mom who was very critical of her, “I thought I wasn’t smart. I just couldn’t retain anything,” she mused. “Now (after being diagnosed with dyslexia during an eye exam), I had this great discovery. I felt like all of my childhood trauma-dies, tragedies, dramas were explained.” Aniston’s story is an example of the most invisible type of adverse life experience that affects health. It’s the hardest to recognize and easy to explain away because it’s all we knew. Justin Timberlake shares what he discovered about his own trauma as a new parent: “”You go through your life with your own traumas, big and small, and think, ‘It’s not that bad, I have a lot to be thankful for, my parents did the best they could,’”… “But then you have a child of your own, and suddenly it opens all the floodgates, and you’re like, ‘No, no, no! That childhood trauma really did f–k me up!'”
Trauma has many effects. Gabor Mate in an interview: “Addiction isn’t the only outcome of trauma. If you look at the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, it clearly shows that the more trauma there is, the greater the risk for addiction, exponentially so. Of course, there are traumatized people who don’t become addicts. You know what happens to them? They develop depression or anxiety, or they develop autoimmune disease, or any number of other outcomes. Or if they’re fortunate enough and get enough support in life to overcome the trauma, then they might not develop anything at all.”
Where to Go Next
- A list of therapies for healing different types of trauma includes links to find someone near you.
- Summary of the science about different types of trauma and how they affect risk.
- Free ebooks on the effects of trauma (you can download book 1 below).
- Risk factors during pregnancy, birth and infancy (part 1 of 3)
- The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study and how trauma in childhood affects risk for addictions, mental health and physical health conditions including chronic illness