Skip to content
Young woman smiling

Positive childhood experiences protect adult mental health

Cover of Jama Pediatrics Statewide SampleAre positive childhood experiences (PCEs) associated with adult depression and/or poor mental health? In 2015, HOPE Director Robert Sege, MD, PhD, Christina Bethell, PhD, MBA, MPH, and others conducted an adult population study in Wisconsin where seven PCEs questions were added to the Wisconsin Behavioral Risk Factor Survey. Respondents reported how often or how much as a child they:

  • Felt able to talk to their family about feelings
  • Felt their family stood by them during difficult times
  • Enjoyed participating in community traditions
  • Felt a sense of belonging in high school
  • Felt supported by friends
  • Had at least two non-parent adults who took genuine interest in them
  • Felt safe and protected by an adult in their home

The authors determined that PCEs buffer adults against the negative lifelong health effects caused by exposure to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Each of the seven questions equaled to 1 PCEs score. Respondents with higher PCEs scores were less likely to have mental health problems, including current mental health problems and depression. This relationship between PCE scores and mental health remained true even among adults who were exposed to ACEs.

Download Publication

Publication Information


Christina Bethell, PhD, MBA, MPH, Jennifer Jones, MSWNarangerel Gombojav, MD, PhDJeff Linkenbach, EdD, Robert Sege, MD, PhD*

*Affiliated with the HOPE National Resource Center


JAMA Pediatrics

Publication Date

September 9, 2019


positive childhood experiences, PCEs, adult health, mental health, depression, relational health, adverse childhood experiences, ACEs, adult-reported social and emotional support, ARSES, behavioral risk factor surveillance system, BRFS, BRFSS


Bethell C, Jones J, Gombojav N, Linkenbach J, Sege R. Positive Childhood Experiences and Adult Mental and Relational Health in a Statewide Sample: Associations Across Adverse Childhood Experiences Levels. JAMA Pediatr. 2019;173(11):e193007. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2019.3007

Corresponding Author

Christina Bethell

Back To Top