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Childhood Trauma and Resilience: Participating in Sports Can Help


People who have experienced trauma or abuse in childhood are at much higher risk of mental health problems throughout their lives. However, there are actions that individuals and communities can take to build resilience and help ward off mental health problems later.

Two new reports look at the impact of adverse childhood experiences and ways individuals and communities can build resilience. These experiences can include verbal, mental and physical abuse, as well as exposure to alcoholism, drug use and domestic violence at home.

Resilience is the ability to adapt well to stress, trauma, tragedy or threats; to bounce back from difficult experiences and to overcome adversity.

A report from Public Health Wales and Bangor University is based on a national survey in Wales looking at adverse childhood experiences and access to various sources of resilience in childhood and in adulthood. The study found that the more adverse childhood experiences people suffered, the greater their risk of mental illness throughout life.

Among those with no adverse experiences, 23 percent had ever had treatment for a mental illness compared to 64 per cent of those with four or more instances of adverse childhood experiences. They found the risk of developing mental illness was significantly reduced when children and youth

     • Had access to a trusted adult in childhood 
     • Had supportive friends 
     • Were engaged in community activities, such as sports



The study identified strong relationships between sports participation in childhood and lower lifetime mental illness and found positive mental health impacts from regular adult participation in sports.

The report concludes that community support for social and emotional skills development, activities that create connectedness to schools and opportunities for creating friendship and engaging in cultural traditions should be considered investments in children’s lifelong mental health. The authors note that while public efforts should focus on preventing adverse childhood experiences, it’s also important to making sure individuals who are affected can build resilience to reduce their risk of mental health problems.


Another report, from researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, published in Academic Pediatrics, focuses on the unique needs of adolescents relating to adverse childhood experiences and resilience. About half of all adolescents in the U.S. age 12 to 17 have been exposed to at least one adverse experience and more than a quarter have been exposed to two or more.

These exposures can lead to increased risk of learning and behavior issues and problems with academics and early initiation of sexual activity. Similar to the Wales study, they found that exposure to more adverse experiences increased the risk of mental health problems later in life. The report also draws attention to especially vulnerable populations, including youth in foster care systems, youth who have been homeless or substance dependent and LGBTQ youth.

Most adolescents with trauma exposure, however, do not receive needed services. The authors offer several recommendations for communities and providers, including addressing issues of confidentiality and adolescents’ emerging independence, developing appropriate screening tools for youth to better identify those impacted by traumatic experiences, and developing effective multipronged trauma-informed interventions.

The report from Wales does caution that while resilience factors may provide some protection from mental health challenges, they do not entirely counter the risks associated with exposure to multiple adverse childhood experiences and those who require the most help may be the hardest to reach.


Bangor University and Public Health Wales. Forecasting the prevalence of preclinical and clinical Alzheimer's disease in the United States.Sources of Resilience and their Moderating relationships with Harms from Adverse Childhood Experiences. 2018.

Soleimanpour S, Geierstanger S, Brindis CD. Forecasting the prevalence of preclinical and clinical Alzheimer's disease in the United States.Adverse Childhood Experiences and Resilience: Addressing the Unique Needs of Adolescents Samira. Academic Pediatrics, 2017, 17:S108–S114. Available from University of California Open Access Publications.


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