Book Review: The Deepest Well on Children’s Mental Health by Dr Nadine Burke Harris

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris’s research is about how deeply our bodies can be imprinted by ACEs—adverse childhood experiences like abuse, neglect, parental addiction, mental illness, and divorce.

Childhood adversity changes our biological systems, and lasts a lifetime. For anyone who has faced a difficult childhood, or who cares about the millions of children who do, the scientific insight and innovative, acclaimed health interventions. The Deepest Well represent hope for preventing lifelong illness for those we love and for generations to come.

The Deepest Well focuses on the impact that adverse childhood experiences can have on a person’s growth and development, physical health, and long-term well-being. The purpose of this study was to determine why many common diseases were not randomly distributed in the population—in other words, why risk factors for chronic illnesses tended to cluster in particular people. The primary finding of the adverse childhood experiences study is that exposure to childhood adversity as abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction is a stand-alone risk factor for a host of chronic illnesses and early death. Moreover, the relationship between the number of adverse childhood experiences and an individual’s risk of developing chronic illness was shown to be exponential.

The general causal chain for adverse childhood experiences exposure is as follows: adverse childhood experiences lead to disrupted neurodevelopment, which leads to social, emotional, and cognitive impairment. Such impairment leads to the adoption of health-risk behavior, which in turn leads to disease, disability, and social problems, which then leads to early death.

The Deepest Well explains how toxic stress impacts the body down to a cellular level by hijacking the body’s fight-or-flight response. The book outlines how such experiences can shape the development of brain and body, and how toxic stress can even cause epigenetic changes that can be passed down through generations.

For Dr. Burke Harris, identifying the problem is the first step toward developing solutions, and those solutions have the potential to improve many lives and reduce a great deal of suffering. Moreover, Dr. Burke Harris’s own life demonstrates that exposure to ACEs doesn’t preclude a person from living a

productive, satisfying life. Instead, Dr. Burke Harris views awareness of one’s ACE score as a path to empowerment. For her, screening for ACEs allows educators, service providers, and caregivers to focus their efforts on counteracting the negative consequences of toxic stress, giving children a fighting chance at overcoming the odds.

Of course, positive outcomes very much depend on the availability of resources, including mental health care, which is not a given in many places.

If you’d like to read this book it can be read in both English and Mandarin.