Positive experiences help children grow into healthy adults

July 30—DANVILLE — Positive childhood experiences have as much influence on an adult’s mental health as negative childhood experiences, according to Lauren McCullough of HOPE (Healthy Outcomes from Positive Experiences) on Friday.

McCullough was the guest speaker at a roundtable on behavioral and mental health at 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 organizations.

“HOPE exists because we believe that positive experiences help children grow into more resilient, healthier adults,” said Boston-based HOPE research fellow McCullough. “We’re building on research that’s really starting to affirm that fact, especially when you look at mental health outcomes for children. HOPE aims to support and better understand experiences and how they work in individual communities.”

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

HOPE changes the narrative that people are defined as much by their strengths as by their challenges. HOPE creates a “presumption of strength” and what has been done right, McCullough said.

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

“ECPs help build resilience, which means positive health outcomes in adulthood,” she said.

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

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

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

“I was delighted to participate in the roundtables today,” said Karen Leonovich, Administrator of the Northumberland County Area Agency on Aging. “It is very important that the community, service agencies and medical systems work together to meet the mental health and addictions needs of our local residents, including children, adolescents, adults and seniors.”

Using a team approach, Leonovich said he can provide information, resources, supports and services to help and empower those in need.

“The roundtable provided an opportunity for all partners to come together to develop strategies and goals to strengthen programs and supports in our local communities,” said Leonovich. “We will need to maintain momentum to achieve these goals, and I believe our communities and professional organizations are up to the challenge.”

Milton Police Chief Curt Zettlemoyer said “every time you bring this many people together to discuss a matter as serious as this, good things will come out of it”.

He added: “I think some weak points in the system have been identified and discussed. I am optimistic for the future that we will continue to collaborate with other stakeholders to address the mental health crisis.”

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