The Effects of Constant Exposure to Mass Tragedy

By Doug Ranck • Free Methodist Church • Santa Barbara, California

I am blessed to live in a small coastal town just outside Santa Barbara. Weekly I pick up the little newspaper and scan to keep up with the latest news in the community. With all the recent events of fires, potential debris flows, and evacuations there has been no lack of information to be shared.

Somewhere in the middle of the paper, I encountered the headline “Childhood Adversity: A Heart Attack in the Making.” As a man now in my late 50’s, I am now a little more attuned to illnesses I naively thought only associated with older people. The words “heart attack” carry a little more weight and impact than in years past.

Couple this with a life-long career of working with children and youth and quickly this article became a compelling piece. The environment of one’s childhood and adolescence brings quality or challenge to one’s health for years to come.

In this article Maria Chesley, who is the director of the Carpinteria Children’s project in California points to the experience of her dad suffering a heart attack at the age of 39. As she connected stories of the family system suddenly this event was not such a surprise.

Pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris explains that “the repeated stress of abuse, neglect, and parents struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues has real, tangible effects on the development of the brain.” (source). Her study showed that most people have at least one Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) and twelve percent of the population now has an ACE score of four. With this score one’s risk of heart disease and cancer is doubled, the likelihood of becoming an alcoholic is increased by 700 percent and the risk of attempted suicide by 1200 percent!

Ms. Chesley adds, “Children who experience significant adversity but have a loving adult who serves as a buffer are less likely to develop an exaggerated stress response and have their future health impacted.”

Those who are younger can easily feel indestructible. There is so much of life ahead; their bones are healthy, they are physically flexible and more. Whatever beating their bodies or spirit take seems to have no relevance to the future, until they get there.

Childhood adversity does indeed have an impact on the health and well-being of an adult. Where families are broken, leaders in the church, schools, and community can fill in many of the gaps. It is no small task, but it must be a priority. Given the cultural landscape of heightened fear, wars and loss the percentage of ACE scores, it seems, will only increase.

We can be the loving adult who may not only offer a child needed safety but also help our health, through giving, in the process.


Doug has written dozens of music-based youth group sessions that are available 24/7 to Youth Leaders Only Members. Get a free sample of Doug’s Leader Guide and Student Guide (theme: “Eternal vs Temporal”) based on the RED song, “Gone.” If this doesn’t make you want to become a YLO Member, nothing will!

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