Speaker: Positive experiences help children become healthy adults

·3 min read

Jul. 30—DANVILLE — Positive childhood experiences are just as influential to an adult's mental health as adverse childhood experiences, according to Lauren McCullough, of HOPE (Healthy Outcomes from Positive Experiences), on Friday.

McCullough was the guest speaker at a Behavioral and Mental Health Roundtable at the CMSU, 507 E. Market St., Danville, on Friday morning. The event was organized by the Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way and featured mental health leaders from various local agencies.

"HOPE exists because we believe that positive experiences help children grow into more resilient and healthier adults," said McCullough, a research associate of HOPE, based in Boston. "We build on research that really begins to affirm that fact, especially when you look at mental health outcomes of children. HOPE aims to support and better understand the experiences and how they function in individual communities."

An ACE score is a tally of different types of abuse, neglect, and other adverse childhood experiences. A higher score indicates a higher risk for health problems later in life. PCEs help creates healthy adults even with childhood trauma, McCullough said.

HOPE shifts the narrative that people are defined as much by their strength as well as their challenges. HOPE creates a "presumption of strength" and what was gotten right, McCullough said.

If a person has zero to two PCEs, 51 percent of those adults have positive mental health. If a person has three to five PCEs, 75 percent of those adults have good mental health. The number is 87 percent when it comes to six to seven PCEs, said McCullough.

"PCEs help build resilience, which means positive health outcomes in adulthood," she said.

Even with people with four or more ACEs, PCEs reduce mental health issues and depression in adults, she said.

The four building blocks of HOPE are relationships with other children and adults through interpersonal activities; safe, equitable, stable environments for living, playing, and learning at home and in school; social and civic engagement to develop a sense of belongings and connectedness; and emotional growth through playing and interacting with peers for self-awareness and self-regulation.

The roundtable also featured breakout sessions to discuss major players in providing behavioral and mental health in the five-county area, gaps in current resources and realistic goals for advancing behavioral and mental health.

"I was excited to participate in today's roundtable discussions," said Northumberland County Area Agency on Aging Administrator Karen Leonovich. "It is very important for the community, service agencies, and medical systems to collaborate on addressing the mental health and substance abuse needs of our local residents, including children, teens, adults, and older adults."

By utilizing a team approach, Leonovich said it can provide information, resources, supports, and services to assist and empower people in need.

"The roundtable provided the opportunity for all partners to come together to develop strategies and goals in order to strengthen programs and supports in our local communities," said Leonovich. "We'll need to keep the momentum moving forward in order to meet these goals, and I believe our communities and professional organizations are ready for the challenge."

Milton Police Chief Curt Zettlemoyer said that "anytime you get this many individuals together to discuss a serious matter such as this, good things will come from it."

He added, "I feel some points of weakness in the system have been identified and discussed. I am optimistic moving forward that we will continue to collaborate with other stakeholders to address the mental health crisis."