Early Childhood Brain Science: Nurturing Strong Mental Health - April 2019
Mind Matters Mental Health: Mind Matters aims to build greater understanding of the importance of mental health and create a safe space for meaningful conversations about mental illness. This hands-on exhibit experiences bring an attendee closer to facts, feelings and issues surrounding this significant topic.
The Science Center of Iowa, in partnership with Capital Crossroads, supports the exhibit by will hosting a series of events to continue the dialogue around mental illness, provide a better understanding of mental health within our community and create a path for continued conversation to address the needs.
Early Childhood Brain Science: Nurturing Strong Mental Health was a topic for the in April 2019 discussion. Our community was fortunate to have Dr. Dayna Long, the Medical Director for the Department of Community Health and Engagement at USCF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, as the Keynote Speaker for this event. Dr. Long guided the attendees through the current science and best practices for addressing adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and reducing toxic stress to improve the health of all children.
Immediately following Dr. Long’s presentation, a discussion panel consisting of five community leaders within the ACEs movement, shared with the audience how ACEs has defined their work over the years and provided helpful resources for attendees to consider as we move forward in the ACEs work in Iowa. The panel consisted of: Amber Schelling, 1st Five Manager with EveryStep; Dawn Cogan, Executive Director with St. Mark Youth Enrichment; Suzanne Mineck, President of Mid-Iowa Health Foundation; Shanell Wagler, Administrator with Early Childhood Iowa; and Lisa Cushatt, Program Manager with Central Iowa ACEs 360. The panel was moderated by Becky Miles-Polka with the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.
Amber Schelling spoke in depth about how important relationships have been for the work of First Five. “Relationships are number one. You have to have relationships with your medical providers and those working directly with your families. You have to have relationships with those within the community so you have sound and credible places to connect the families that you are working with.”
Suzanne Mineck shared that toxic experiences do not discriminate. “Many of us, if not all of us in this room have had some level of experiences that we take with us in life, and so that’s a humbling part of this work,” she said. “But the beautiful part of this work is that it crosses every single one of our lives and every one of our spaces of work.”
Lisa Cushatt updated the audience about how last year the Iowa Legislature approved requiring educators to have training in suicide prevention and post-vention. That legislation also required them to have training in ACEs and toxic stress. The legislators were the ones who wanted specific language of adverse childhood experiences. “I want to rewind eight years when we first started talking about ACEs in Iowa,” she states. “I very clearly remember that I was sitting in a sub-committee meeting and one of the senators turned around and asked one of the advocates in the room ‘What are ACEs?’, and we looked at each other thinking about who was going to pick up that ball and answer because we weren’t even sure ourselves how exactly we wanted to frame it.”
Dawn Cogan shared with the audience that the greatest work they’ve seen is around the culture they’ve been able to create at St. Mark’s Enrichment. It has led to them having growth and capacity in many ways. “Within our own agency, we first start from within, so whatever we want to be outside the four walls, we have to be that first as individuals and first as an agency, or it’s not going to be consistent,” she stated.
Suzanne summed the conversation up by sharing that it’s important to listen to the voice of those we are striving to serve and walk alongside, as that is where we have the greatest potential as a community. “I think for me, what I carry with is a relentless passion to stop letting our kids down,” commented Mineck. “We all have a role in that – it doesn’t matter if it’s my child or someone else’s child – we all have a role and I think we need to stop letting them down.”
Dr. Long shared with the audience that there is a very well documented link between stress, trauma and public health issues. “We know is that stress is linked to heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, increased accidental injuries, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicidal attempts. We also know that trauma has a ripple effect across communities, and that low income communities and communities of color are disproportionately affected by trauma. There is also intergenerational transmission. This is all systemic and often times driven by policy,” said Dr. Long. But the most important part about all if this that she shared with us is that it’s preventable.
“The fascinating thing about ACEs is that there is such variability in how we respond. A child can be exposed to ACEs and not show any symptoms and actually be quite healthy. This is where the notion of resiliency comes in. Then there are children who are exposed to ACEs and may not show any outward symptomatology, but as they grow into adulthood, they have the same amount mental health concerns and physical health limitations. And then there are children exposed to ACEs that have disruption of that neuroendocrine circuitry, that have social, emotional, or cognitive impairments, and that adopt high-risk behavior lifestyles that ultimately do go on to develop diseases or engage in other high-risk activities. There is a need for universal screening – we do not know who will show symptoms or who will not. But if we can really promote community mental health and universal screening, then we can actually reach all these kids whether or not they are symptomatic early and not wait until they show signs,” Dr. Long commented.
If you would like to read more about the event, including Dr. Long's work in California, we would encourage you to read the excerpt from the event below.