Positive experiences help children become healthy adults

July 30 — DANVILLE — According to Lauren McCullough of HOPE (Healthy Outcomes from Positive Experiences) on Friday, positive childhood experiences are just as influential on an adult’s mental health as negative childhood experiences.

McCullough was the guest speaker at a behavior and mental health roundtable at CMSU, 507 E. Market St., Danville, Friday morning. The event was organized by the Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way and attended by mental health leaders from various local authorities.

“HOPE exists because we believe that positive experiences help children become more resilient, healthier adults,” said McCullough, a Boston-based HOPE research associate. “We’re building on research that’s really beginning to validate this fact, especially when you look at the impact on children’s mental health. HOPE aims to support and better understand the experiences and how they work in individual communities.”

An ACE score is a count of different types of abuse, neglect, and other adverse 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 shifts the narrative that people are defined by their strengths as well as their challenges. HOPE creates a “presumption of strength” and what was done right, McCullough said.

If a person has zero to two PCE, 51 percent of those adults have positive mental health. If a person has three to five PCE, 75 percent of those adults have good mental health. With six to seven PCEs, it’s 87 percent, McCullough said.

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

Even in 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 for living, playing and learning at home and at school; social and civic engagement to develop a sense of belonging and connectedness; and emotional growth through play and interacting with peers for self-knowledge and self-regulation.

The roundtable also included breakout sessions to discuss key players in behavioral and mental health delivery in the five-county area, gaps in current resources, and realistic goals for promoting behavioral and mental health.

“I was delighted to be able to participate in today’s roundtable,” said Karen Leonovich, administrative director of the Northumberland County Area Agency on Aging. “It is very important that the community, service agencies and medical systems work together to address the mental health and substance abuse needs of our local residents, including children, adolescents, adults and older adults.”

By using a team approach, Leonovich said it can provide information, resources, support 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 support in our local communities,” Leonovich said. “We must maintain momentum to achieve these goals and I believe our communities and professional bodies are up for the challenge.”

Milton Police Chief Curt Zettlemoyer said: “Anytime you bring so many people together to discuss a serious matter like this, good things will come of it.”

He added: “I feel that some weaknesses in the system have been identified and discussed. I am optimistic that we will continue to work with other stakeholders to address the mental health crisis.”

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