Richmond Ambassador’s ‘Resilience’ Screening Event is a Hit!

Richmond Ambassador’s ‘Resilience’ Screening Event is a Hit!

WAVE Trust 70/30 Ambassador, Daphne Cotton, hosted a hugely successful awareness-raising event on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) at The Exchange in Twickenham on 19th September.

‘Resilience: the Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope’ (Director James Redford) was seen by a packed audience, including policy makers from Richmond Council. Health leads, health professionals, headteachers and a variety of public and voluntary sector workers were amongst those attending. The screening was followed by a Q & A discussion with Twickenham MP Sir Vince Cable and a panel of experts comprising George Hosking (WAVE Trust), Dr Sarah Temple (Ehcap Ltd) and Shabira Papain (Best Beginnings)

The science of ‘Toxic Stress’ and the major findings that came out of the ACE Study (published 1998) are only now coming into the public domain, thanks in part to James Redford’s film. When children experience high doses of stress in their lives, the impact on their brains and their bodies can be devastating, often leading to lifelong health and social problems which tend to pass from generation to generation. Toxic stress is now understood to be one of the leading causes of everything from poor academic performance, substance misuse, mental ill health, heart disease and cancer, to violence and criminality.

The power of the film is that it demonstrates the possibility of breaking the inter-generational cycle of damage by the healing effects of trauma-informed practice. Babies and children suffer ACEs, not because of bad parents but usually because of bad things that have happened to the parents themselves when they were young. It is time to really tackle the root causes of society’s problems and break this inter-generational cycle of violence, addiction and disease. This is what Daphne is hoping will happen in Richmond and elsewhere. Already the response from key people in the borough, including Cabinet Members from Richmond Council, has been very positive indeed.

Since the Twickenham event, Daphne has been to Glasgow where she met Dr Nadine Burke-Harris, the paediatrician featured in ‘Resilience’. Dr Burke-Harris was the keynote speaker at a conference in the city on 26 September, “Making Scotland the first ACE-Aware Nation”, which was attended by over 2000 delegates.

As a direct result of the Twickenham event, local Police Inspector Ed McDonagh, along with Detective Superintendent Tor Garnett of the London Met Training and Transformation division, have organized a screening of ‘Resilience’ at Cineworld, a 700-seat cinema in Leicester Square on 29 November. These were Tor’s words in an email to Daphne the morning following the Twickenham screening: “Huge congratulations on such an inspiring event . . . I would very much like to explore how we could spread this within the Met so that we could become a trauma-informed police service – following on the heels of Scotland, South Wales and Ayrshire”.

Daphne will be on the Q & A panel following the Leicester Square screening, along with two of the Met’s top brass, Commander Richard Smith, Safeguarding Lead and Commander Mark McEwan, Head of Profession, Crime Prevention, Inclusion and Engagement. Also on the panel will be Rachel Egan, Assistant Director Early Help, Wandsworth.
As Daphne said “The knowledge is catching fire, it is having an impact and there is a sense of momentum and a sense of hope that we might at last be able to put in place, right across the country, what is needed to make a real difference.”

If you would like to get involved in helping to create an ACE-aware trauma-informed community in Richmond and neighbouring boroughs, get in touch with local Ambassador, Daphne Cotton, daphnecotton26@gmail.com.

How to stop involuntary recall, or flashbacks, of PTSD

How to stop involuntary recall, or flashbacks, of PTSD

Our subconscious, like a library of DVDs

As a new guest blogger for the 70/30 Campaign I have been asked to share with you my most recent blog on my own website about the involuntary recall, or flashbacks, of PTSD.


Imagine a library. Full of DVDs. With information on just about every subject you could possibly imagine. If you take out one DVD, you have access to the information contained in that DVD. All the other DVDs still contain the information they hold, but you are only looking at the information in the DVD you have in your hands.

The way our brains store memories

The memories of everything you’ve ever experienced are stored in your own internal library of DVDs, your subconscious mind. You can access any of those films whenever you wish. But if you took out all the DVDs at one time you simply couldn’t deal with them all at once, could you? So, your subconscious mind files all the DVDs away for access only when required.

Some of the DVDs are fantastic, enjoyable films that you like to watch often. They are filed on the easiest to reach shelves at the front. Some DVDs are really heavy going documentaries that you are not so keen on. So they are filed on the back shelves that you only access if necessary.

However, sometimes there are DVDs that are horror stories so awful that you put them in a box and tape it up before putting it down in the basement. And you choose when, and how often, you go and get any of these DVDs out of your library.

That’s how I like to see the way our brains store memories.

Sometimes something triggers a memory and you go running to your library to get out the DVD. Your senses often remind you of memories. You might smell a perfume, or hear a song, or see a particular scene and you rush to the library to get the DVD out which tells the story of the time when a sense was connected to a pleasurable activity. But sometimes it’s connected to a time you’re not quite so keen to remember. If it’s a really bad memory it will have been placed in the basement and locked away to protect you from going back there.

Traumatic experiences

However, perhaps something happened to you and you can make no sense of it. It is just too awful to comprehend. You can’t figure out how to file this film, so it sits there in the DVD player on the front desk. Always right in reach. Or perhaps, someone unlocks the basement and an awful DVD is brought back up to the front desk for sorting.

You see the images in those films whether you want to or not because they are not filed away. Many things might trigger you to watch clips from those films at all sorts of times. You really wish you could just file them away on a shelf and be able to choose if, and when, you watch them.

This is what it can be like for people who have experienced trauma. For some it gets easier after a while and they can categorise and file the DVD. Perhaps they have support to decide upon the category and help in getting the DVD put away on the appropriate shelf. But for others it just seems impossible. No-one seems able to help them. This awful film doesn’t fit any category. So it’s always there. We’re supposed to recall memories voluntarily. When appropriate. That’s why we have a ‘library’ in our subconscious mind.

Flashbacks

But if the DVD is always right in front of you the recall is involuntary. You can’t escape it. You can’t get on with the rest of your life if you keep being made to watch that film, can you? Going back to a place or seeing the person can be very triggering. But it’s not just things which are obviously related to the trauma. It might seem random. But if you experienced something as traumatic during a rain storm you might find that you have flashbacks when it rains. It happens when you least suspect it and are unprepared for it.

Involuntary recall is commonly referred to as Flashbacks. And it’s one criteria included in a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress/Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Every time you are taken back to the traumatic memory you might see, hear, feel, smell or taste everything just as though it was happening right now.

Release yourself from flashbacks

treatment form for Rewind for PTSD

Do you want to file that film away on to a shelf, anywhere you wish, in your library? You will still have access to it, if needed. Sometimes you might still be reminded of it. It could still make you sad, or feel bad, for a bit but you can quickly put it back on the shelf. You can get on with living your life, doing things that you enjoy.

Contact me if you’d like me to help you Rewind that DVD so that you can easily and quickly file it away on to a shelf in your library and release yourself from the flashbacks and intrusive thoughts.

You will not need to tell me anything about the trauma. I will just need to know how it is impacting on your life on a daily basis through a simple form and we should only need 2 or maybe 3 sessions.

Don’t let the flashbacks rule your life any longer.


I am an Ambassador for the 70/30 Campaign, a founding member of the Dundee and Angus ACEs Hub, and a self employed therapist based in Angus offering massage, hypnotherapy, the Rewind Technique, childbirth education and doula support. I have two children, two dogs, two cats and notice that I typically lose about two years of memories following traumatic experiences. 

ACEs and mental well being – how education must respond

ACEs and mental well being – how education must respond

The movement to increase recognition of mental well being – its significance, its effects and its pervasiveness – is going strong. More than ever before, it is seen as of high importance and consequence.

While we should be grateful for these forward steps, though, there remains work to be done. Doing so entails a deeper look at Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, a set of 10 childhood adversities which have been shown to cause numerous physical and mental health difficulties throughout life. Given that ACEs affect around 50% of the UK population (and an even higher number in less affluent areas), their relationship to mental health issues in this country is likely to be a strong one.

Their effects take hold from early on in life, going on to impact behaviour, aggression and ability to form positive relationships. As the child grows up, these effects are amplified. Because of this, the education system is a prime site for the trauma of ACEs to be observed and responded to. Schools are well-placed to look at behaviour, performance and social ability through the lens of childhood adversity. By doing this, they will better understand each student’s mental state and its determinants. This represents an early step in approaching education in a ‘trauma-informed’ way.

What is trauma-informed education?

Trauma-informed education is part of a wider trauma-informed movement, which calls for a heightened understanding of people’s experiences of trauma – and the effects thereof – across different domains of society. A trauma-informed school system would focus on students’ sensitivity to past trauma, as well as how their experiences determine their response to different teaching styles and learning environments.

These responses differ because our brains develop according to formative experiences in the early years. People whose brains have adapted, or maladapted, as a result of adversity will interpret events and feelings in different ways. For example, a child who has experienced fear or violence may become hyper-alert, over-reactive and highly oppositional in the face of discipline or restrictions. Similarly, a child who has experienced neglect may struggle to form trusting relationships with school staff.

A trauma-informed education system could hugely benefit children with such adaptations. Comprehensive implementation would likely result in improved wellbeing, more complete social and emotional development, and a system which better involves families and the surrounding community (because understanding a child’s experiences necessitates connecting to their wider life, rather than siloing their schooling). On top of this, evidence suggests that students’ attainment would greatly improve. Indeed, it makes sense that a child who feels safe, looked after and appreciated would also feel more able to learn.

Becoming a trauma-informed school

A move to a trauma-informed approach to schooling now would be a timely one. Increasingly, schools face the difficulties of disengagement from students and their families. This, combined with a governmental fixation on attainment, has led to a culture where school exclusions are common. As WAVE’s recent report has shown, school exclusion very often condemns children to a life of social exclusion. Similarly, schools risk re-traumatising children who have faced adversity by failing to respond to their individual needs. So how could these be avoided?

There is no standard template for becoming trauma-informed: just as traumatised children have individual needs which must be responded to, schools have their own specific circumstances and challenges. That said, we can identify a few key foundational steps on which this transformation can be built.

For example, we can shift how professionals see and deal with ‘bad’ behaviour. Currently, children with challenging behaviour tend to be seen as problematic. Often, though, they are behaving in a way that is symptomatic of past trauma. Understanding that a child’s behaviour is a response to past experiences – and a way of communicating their feelings and needs – will encourage teachers to see them as needing help rather than being deliberately disruptive.

We can also ensure that staff are appropriately trained and educated. Doing so would mean training them to identify relevant issues and risks. These would include existing mental health issues, which may present in different ways. Beyond this, professionals should be able to identify any causal factors in a child’s life which indicate the presence of ACEs (or the risk of them occurring). We can also help staff understand what kind of delivery styles may trigger issues or exacerbate their negative effects. 

Finally, certain principles must be adopted. Focus must be given to the primacy of emotional wellbeing, both as a determinant of and additional to educational attainment. The importance of stable and trusting relationships with adults must be recognised and considered foundational to all school activity. Behaviour must be seen as a symptom of earlier or current trauma and considered a reflection of a child’s life, both in and out of school. Finally, linking with this, no child should be seen as a problem rather than a product of their experiences.

Through implementing these initial actions, a huge difference can be made. We would begin to see more schools linking with services and families. This enables better understanding of children beyond their school experience, as well as enrichment of their wider lives. Such care would surely result in students with enhanced emotional and academic development. The mental well being of our citizens would stand to improve greatly as a result.

I wish my teacher knew….

I wish my teacher knew….

Last week I attended a mental health first aid course run by Mental Health First Aid, (https://mhfaengland.org/) it was excellent and covered everything from – What influences mental health, Depression, Anxiety, Suicide ideologies, Psychosis, Self-harm and Eating disorders. As I was driving home I realised that as a school Health Mentor I have deal with all of these this school year (except psychosis) the school I work in is an outstanding school (in every sense of the term) in an affluent area.

 

The part of my role I cherish most is the 1-1 mentoring where I get to use my training, qualifications and experience to devise bespoke worksheets and activities which help young children to understand why they behave and feel the way they sometimes do. Some days I am humbled to the point of tears at the progress made my some of my mentees. Other days I am enraged, to the point of tears, at the position children find themselves in.

 

One of the mentoring sessions I use around family tensions includes –“This is what I want to tell you…” and “This is what I want to hear from you……” It can be a very powerful tool in communication.

It’s surprising how many parents can hear but not listen.

 

This week I will be working with children moving from our primary school, where every member of staff knows them, their backgrounds and family history to their secondary schools where they will be just one of hundreds of the ‘new kids’ for some this will be a chance to turn over a new leaf, a blank canvas and a fresh start. Sadly, for others it means leaving the care and support of the school ‘village’ that have raised them so far into a new, bigger, scarier village without the care and support network they have known since day one in reception.

 

In preparation for this I have designed an activity worksheet “I wish my teacher knew” and then contemplated the various back stories, traumas and difficulties already encountered by these young boys and girls. I considered how I have been able to support them because I both know of their problems and have been trained to help. Who will continue that work in September?

 

Most schools do not have the luxury of an Evolve Health Mentor, (www.evolvesi.com) trained in mentoring, counselling and mental health first aid. So how do other schools provide exceptional support for their pupils who need specialised support? The answer is in most cases, they don’t.

 

They have fantastic staff, naturally supportive, caring and giving their absolute all to help the children living with trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences, but the lack of understanding and training in how trauma interrupts brain development and triggers a fight, flight or freeze response which manifests itself as poor behaviour means that despite the best efforts of wonderful good-intentioned teachers, teaching assistants, support staff and pastoral workers the pupils’ traumas remain untreated which can cause long term problems.

 

A movement to have all schools ‘trauma informed’ is gathering pace – the 70/30 campaign aims to reduce child abuse by 70% by 2030. https://www.70-30.org.uk/ this is vital in ensuring that the children who have the toughest start in life get the best help.

 

As part of my research on ‘I wish my teacher knew’ I came across this article from the New York Times


It’s global and needs addressing.

 

Trauma-Informed Schools are needed
Tears of a Clown

Tears of a Clown

As a researcher in the arena of childhood and youth, in particular how cultural narratives impact on children and young people it is not unusual that personal experience impacts upon the topics that I choose to study. One such incident occurred last year, following a conversation with a friend of nearly 50 years.

Spurred on by my musings on the events of my teenage years, I repurchased some 1970s teenage publications and looked upon them again with professional adult eyes. Looking through the montage covers of these publications at the smiling idols of the era, I began ticking off how many had died at a young age, and in tragic circumstances. I was also simultaneously working on a project that focused on issues around ‘Adverse Childhood Experiences’ (ACEs), a concept based in the finding that events creating insecure emotional development in childhood impact upon lifelong physical and mental health, resulting in a lower life expectancy of 20 years for those with the highest ACEs score.

Beginning to wonder if there might be a connection between the concept of ACEs and the number of early deaths of so many of those who had been idolised by teenage girls of my generation, I carried out a quick straw poll of people featured on the cover of FAB208 annuals from 1972-75, who I rated as relatively enduring major stars.  Eight of those still living had never featured in the media with respect to addiction problems. Eight who had died, and two who were still living had all featured in publicity relating to addiction, some explicitly citing emotionally disrupted childhoods. Alcohol was named as the major source of substance abuse in five of these cases. This is a very small sample, so any conclusion can only be indicative; however, it shows a larger proportion of early death and addiction than would generally be expected. While still contemplating this finding, I carried out a literature search relating to research on ACEs in general, and found a reference to more secure findings that tied the ends of my thoughts together: performing artists with a high ACEs score tended to be more intensively creative than those who experienced more secure, loving childhoods.

All of these ideas were still circulating in my mind when the news broke that 1970s teen idol David Cassidy had become yet another of those to die at a comparatively young age, having experienced various difficulties throughout his life. On Monday 11th June, a TV programme aired in the US which followed Cassidy recording his last album Songs my father taught me, a tribute to his father, a ‘debonair and dashing … bipolar, manic depressive alcoholic’ who left his mother when Cassidy was only three and a half. In the programme, Cassidy reflects on his childhood memories of his father, commenting upon being ‘an abandoned child, but I worshipped him’.

This documentary therefore unwittingly constitutes a poignant case study of the complex mixture of talent and anguish in a creative, sensitive performer that has been previously described in academic research. For example Marie Forgeard found that the number of adverse childhood events reported by her sample of 373 participants predicted breadth of creativity, leading Scott Kaufman to contemplate a new rationale for the use of creative therapies, such as art and drama for those with high ACE scores. In 2015 Paula Thompson and Victoria Jacque found a link between shame and fantasy in dancers, working from a theory of fantasy as a coping strategy, and in later, larger scale research, found that performing artists with high ACE scores were more able to enter what is known as a ‘flow state’, losing themselves in their performance.  Chiraag Mittal found that while research typically finds that people with high ACE loads lack impulse inhibition, which can have negative consequences, the mirror image of this quality is the ability to shift attention quickly: ‘an aspect of cognitive flexibility, which is thought to underlie abilities such as creativity’.

All of this made contemplating the documentary about Cassidy’s last project even more emotionally harrowing than it otherwise would have been, especially as my first ever pop concert had been one in which he starred. The poignancy of the documentary’s narrative was further exacerbated by a bitter note; public dissemination of a conversation recorded by a journalist on her iPhone of a clearly ailing Cassidy explaining that while he was experiencing dementia-like symptoms, he had recently been informed by his doctors that these were not caused by the neurological degeneration associated with Alzheimer’s Disease as he had previously thought, but by his drinking.

I am very familiar with the insidious fear of mental decline that is typical in a person in later life who has watched the demise of two relatives who developed the condition; in Cassidy’s case, his mother and grandfather, and in mine, my mother and my paternal aunt. From this perspective, it would have been quite reasonable up to this point for Cassidy to have presumed that his increasing forgetfulness was due to the onset of Alzheimer’s. What he appeared to be doing in the recorded conversation was explaining that he had just been given an alternative diagnosis for his condition. Sadly and somewhat predictably however, the popular press overwhelmingly presented this phone call as the ‘sensational’ aspect of the documentary, in articles with disingenuous headlines similar to the Daily Mirror’s David Cassidy admits he LIED about having dementia to cover up his drinking.

In conclusion, it is very sad to see a person whose performances brought pleasure to millions, and who clearly experienced adverse events in childhood, being posthumously presented in this fashion.  Part of being ‘ACEs and trauma aware’ means not framing the key question as ‘what is wrong with you?’ but instead ‘what happened to you?’ Recent contemplation on David Cassidy’s life has led me to consider that perhaps we should not only be applying this practice in individual, personal interactions, but also to people in the public eye, and that our media should attempt to become more ACEs and trauma aware, not least in the wake of recent high profile suicides.

As Cassidy himself sang:

‘See the funny little clown/ See the puppet on a string/ Wind him up and he will sing, give him candy he will dance/ But be certain not to feel if his funny face is real’.