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Connecting Childhood Trauma and Diabetes

Research shows that those who experience trauma as a child have a greater likelihood of developing chronic health problems as an adult: diabetes, heart disease, COPD, and more.

Adverse Childhood Experiences – or ACE’s – refer to trauma that happens before the age of eighteen. Since the nervous system, hormonal system, etc. are all in development at these ages, they are more vulnerable to lasting damage from trauma.

As our CEO George Jones explained, “We have long known that early experiences of trauma— whether from physical violence or the complex suffering caused by poverty and racism— negatively impact a person’s whole health.”

TRAUMA-INFORMED PRIMARY CARE INITIATIVEAnd that is why we are proud to be one of fourteen community groups working with The National Council for Behavioral Health on the Trauma-Informed Primary Care Initiative. As part of this initiative, we launched a new trauma-informed care pilot last July to provide behavioral health supports to 50+ patients with uncontrolled diabetes.

The goal after nine months is to screen these patients for early trauma, and provide those who screen positive with case management support and brief, ego supportive therapy that teaches coping skills. The hope is that this trauma-informed behavioral health treatment, along with social services that help patients address their most basic needs, will help patients manage their diabetes. These efforts will also help Bread’s medical clinic explore additional ways that we can integrate a trauma-informed approach throughout the clinic–from front desk staff to doctors. And if it goes well, we will expand the model with a goal of universal screening of all our clients.

And beyond the life-saving care for the patients being treated, there are potentially significant cost savings to the larger health system when appropriate, comprehensive, and accessible care is provided to survivors of trauma. CNBC highlighted these findings in their January 21, 2016 piece, “Can treating past trauma lead to big US health savings?”

Cost savings aside, we are excited for what we are witnessing seven months into this initiative. We have screened and educated more than 50 patients on the impact of childhood trauma, empowering them to begin to heal old wounds that continue to impact them today. We have also redoubled efforts to educate our staff on trauma and on ways to best work with people who have experienced early childhood trauma–including providing appropriate space for reflection and self care to mitigate vicarious traumas’ impact on staff.

You can learn more about our integrated behavioral health model on some past blog posts here and here, and can learn more about the Trauma-Informed Primary Care Initiative, funded by Kaiser Permanente, on The National Council for Behavioral Health’s website.

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