There is no health without mental health.
Brain science and trauma theory
There is a remarkable period of opportunity and growth for the human brain during adolescence and young adulthood.
From around age 10 to about 25, we discover, learn from, and adapt to the world around us. We forge our sense of who we are and who we aspire to be. We learn to make decisions, manage our emotions, and create deeper connections with peers and others in our communities.
However, everyone does not have the same opportunity to develop healthy brains.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)
The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) research has demonstrated in repeated studies in over 50 countries over the past 24 years that a safe and nurturing environment is essential to a healthy life. In communities, neighborhoods, and homes where there are significant stressors, such as substance use, domestic violence, and inadequate employment, there is an increased risk that young brains are not being exposed to a safe and nurturing environment.
Research has shown that brain development in the early years is shaped through the child’s relationships with caregivers. We are not born with the executive functioning and self-regulation skills that are essential to successfully navigate adulthood. They are either strengthened or undermined, depending on the degree of safety, consistency, and predictability they experience from their caregivers.
If those caregivers have experienced historical and/or ongoing structural oppression, those experiences will influence how they are able to provide safe, consistent, and predictable care.
When children are overwhelmed by adverse and traumatic experiences while their brains are still forming, critical growth of the brain is impeded. This can negatively impact their ability later in life to develop skills to manage their emotions, problem-solve, and influence events and circumstances in their life.
Impact of Circles of Connection & Recilience
Circles have been implemented in a variety of settings. Feedback from participants consistently highlights their appreciation of the conversations. They report feeling heard and seen, reinforcing their connection to community, each other, and a hopeful future.
A small, qualitative survey of young people in Baltimore, Maryland who participated in Circles indicated that they experienced increases in:
- agency, which refers to making decisions to influence events and circumstances of one’s life
- managing feelings
Another qualitative study demonstrated that individuals who participated in Circles reported a decrease in anxiety and depression, an increase in self-care behavior, and an improved sense of wellbeing.
Promising data from these surveys, in addition to practice-based evidence, has accumulated since 2014 demonstrating that Circles enhances participants’ ability to:
- successfully navigate work, school, and relationships
- become the next generation of effective leaders in driving social change needed to increase their community’s access to resources that support thriving