NORTHWEST ARKANSAS (KNWA) — Research shows Arkansas has the highest trauma rate in the nation.
Almost 60 percent of children in the Natural State have lived through at least one adverse childhood experience, like abuse or violence.
One local health professional—now dedicating her life to helping these kids using her own trauma.
“This is an epidemic for us as a country, as a nation,” said mental health professional Joi McGowan. “I stand here as an African American woman with 8 of 10 adverse experiences.”
McGowan is now fighting to help Northwest Arkansas children heal from traumatic experiences.
“It can be sexual abuse, physical abuse, it can be just witnessing violence from within your home or within your community,” she said.
Working at Burrell-Youth Bridge, McGowan knows trauma can not only take over a child’s mental health but their physical health, too.
She said, “The more experiences a child has had, the more likely they are to have diseases that are basically preventable.”
Along with anxiety and depression, these abused kids can also be diagnosed with diabetes or high blood pressure.
These are a range of issues that don’t stop when then child leaves their home.
“What we see in school is typically children are coming to school, they’re really anxious, they’re easily angered, they’re really impulsive, they may get into fights, they may get suspended most of the time for their negative behaviors, but really this kid is just in a state of fight or flight,” McGowan said.
If you’re an educator and you notice this, she said the best thing to do is build a relationship with the child and lend them your ear.
“It’s a different type of confidence when you can tell your story and someone listens and someone validates and someone says, ‘that’s not right, I can’t believe that happened,'” she said.
Burell-Youth Bridge isn’t the only place working to save the mental health of these kids.
“We can’t take back what’s already happened but if we get to be the people that kind of help them start that healing process then that’s pretty impactful,” said Casey Atwood, the program director at Children’s Safety Center.
The center offers various types of therapy and support groups for kids experiencing trauma.
“Children are our future,” she said. “So, we really have to be making sure we as a community are doing everything we can to make sure children are safe, that they’re going to be cared for and hope that they don’t have any of these adverse experiences.”
According to research done by Child Trends, one in seven children have experienced three or more adverse childhood experiences.
If you suspect any type of child abuse in your area, you can call the child abuse hotline at 1 (800) 482-5964.