Monday, April 26, 2021

Shocking statistics released by the National Records of Scotland In December revealed that drug-related deaths in the Lothians had risen from a previous high of 152 in 2018 to a new record of 155 in 2019.

Across Scotland, drug-related deaths have increased by 6% compared to the previous year, the highest death rate in Europe and three and a half times higher than that of the UK as a whole.

Leading figures from the recovery community have since highlighted the link between drug deaths and childhood trauma.

Trauma expert and developmental psychologist Dr. Suzanne Zeedyk said: “The scientific evidence makes it very clear that addiction in adulthood has a strong link with trauma in childhood.

“Trauma does damage to the body’s ability to cope with stress, and drugs are a way of comforting that distress.”

Jay Haston, is a passionate voice advocating for more education on the impacts of childhood trauma, particularly its correlation to drug abuse in Edinburgh and Lothian.

The 42-year-old campaigner is using his own adverse childhood experiences and mental health battle to inform people of the significant public health risk unmanaged childhood trauma poses.

At the age of thee, Mr Haston’s father was tragically killed by his uncle in a horrifying accident, the memory of which still impacts him today.  

Facing bullies in school and taunted by his family for his unpopularity Mr Haston remembers his childhood as a time full of “isolation” and “anxiety”.

He said: “My earliest childhood memory is me sitting alone in my room staring at a wall and hugging my teddy.

“I remember always feeling scared about what happened to my dad, getting a hard time at school and being made fun of at home for not having friends .”

The early loss of his father and uncle, who was jailed for murder, coupled with humiliation at school and home left Mr Haston’s mental health severely damaged.

But unaware of how his childhood experiences were impacting him he did not seek help but instead tried to hide himself away, embarrassed of himself and thinking he was “broken”.

Mr Haston, of Polbeth, was just 16 when he left school to escape the bullies and joined the army but suffered a mental breakdown a year later which led to a medical discharge.

Incredibly low and unsure of where his life was heading Mr Haston attended a rave in Edinburgh where he was pressured to take ecstasy.  

That same night he was caught by an undercover police officer and later charged for drug possession.

Feeling out of options and unable to cope due to his existing mental health issues, Mr Haston relied on drink and drugs to help him cope for the next 20-years.

Then, six years ago, after losing his step-father to cancer and suffering the terrible loss of 18-unborn babies to miscarriage that he hit rock bottom.

Nothing could help him cope with the stress and pain and he attempted to overdose.  

His wife Angela, 40, stepped in and told her husband he needed to get help.

Mr Haston was referred to a psychologist specialising in childhood trauma at St John’s Hospital which he described as the “penny dropping moment”.

He said: “Therapy changed my life and taught me about myself. I didn’t think my problems had anything to do with my childhood, I didn't think they were connected. I thought I was just broken.”

Therapy helped process his childhood trauma and understand the root causes of his mental ill-health and dependence on mind-altering substances.  

But it was attending group therapy with other men struggling with similar issues that helped him fully recover.

He explained that he found acceptance, understanding and above all stories he could relate to in group therapy, and slowly he stopped feeling alone.

Now campaigning for more education around childhood trauma Mr Haston said the Scottish government and local authorities need to take action.

He said: “The Scottish government needs to listen up, we have the most drug-related deaths in Europe and we need to start putting money into solving it.  

“We need to create a trauma-informed society with early intervention at its core, there is a mental health epidemic in Scotland causing people to self-medicate.

“It’s like a volcano and the lava is already running but now with coronavirus it’s getting really to explode, we need action now.”

Dr Zeedyk said Scotland needs a treatment system that helps people who are addicted to resolve past traumas.

She said: “At the moment, our national strategy is focused on coping with the symptoms of addiction, rather than healing the trauma at the heart of it.  

“We need to be willing to look at the childhood pain so many of our fellow Scots are carrying, and then we need to get busy helping to resolve and heal that pain.

“With the highest rate of drug deaths in Europe, it is time we all got curious about the emotional distress that is so easily leftover from childhood.”

A Scottish government spokesperson said they recognise the need to be bold and creative in their approach to tackling drug-related deaths.

They added: “The issues around drug use and addiction are wide-ranging and complex, and that means we need to be bold and creative in our approach.  

“We know adverse childhood experiences and childhood trauma are some of the root causes of many of the long-term challenges we face, whether that is with problem substance use or many of the other problems that we know we have to overcome.

“Our learning about the impacts of childhood adversity, trauma and ways of supporting people affected is informing the crucial work underway to address problem drug use and prevent drug deaths.”

Jay is a WAVE Ambassador for the 7030 campaign. See his website ACE Awareness. This article first appeared in the Edinburgh Evening News in January 2021.