It is largely accepted that people who have traumatic experiences, particularly when they are young, are more likely to face mental health issues in later life.

Since the 1990s, studies have identifed the specific reasons for, and the diagnosis of, issues stemming from trauma and the importance of understanding a person’s history when tackling a variety of health issues – generally referred to as being ‘trauma informed’.

Now South Ayrshire councillors are seeking action to tackle the problem by taking this approach when delivering services and support to residents.

Grouped under the term Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), experts have been able to identify at what stage the likes of abuse, addiction and violence begin to change the development of a person’s brain.

SNP councillor Julie Dettbarn, backed by Labour councillor Brian McGinley, is formally calling on South Ayrshire Council to develop a focused plan to deal with ACEs.

Cllr Dettbarn, who is chairwoman of the South Ayrshire Integration Joint Board and a Trauma Champion for the authority, said: “We know that children who experience four or more ACEs, because of the way that the brain adapts to cope with extreme stress, are much more likely than others to suffer poor outcomes and inequalities in adult life.

“These may include challenges with education and employment, health harming behaviours leading to addiction or poor mental and physical health, experiencing violent relationships, homelessness or imprisonment – which resonates across generations, repeating the cycle.

“Early intervention and support for vulnerable families is the key to breaking that cycle but we need all services, and those provided by our partners, to be trauma-informed and responsive, to avoid further harm to those suffering from psychological trauma and to support recovery".

Among the experiences that come under the ACEs umbrella are, domestic violence, parental abandonment, having a parent with a mental health condition, abuse, neglect and growing up in a household with alcohol and drug problems.

While this early intervention is a common aspect of many issues with mental health, Cllr Dettbarn explained that even working with traumatised people can impact on staff’s own wellbeing.

Unsurprisingly, it is the unprecedented scale of stress resulting from the pandemic that has really revealed this aspect.

“We also know that those working with traumatised people can themselves be become adversely affected,” Cllr Dettbarn continued.

“This has been brought into very sharp focus over the last 18 months when every single member of our staff has gone above and beyond to respond to what has been a time of national trauma.

“It’s important that we have the right systems and training in place to support our workforce who do so much for others.

“In my role as part of the Scottish network of Trauma Champions, it is well understood that this approach will be critical to the national recovery effort.”

In a motion to go before a special meeting of South Ayrshire Council, Cllr Dettbarn states: “There is a growing evidence base that traumatic life experiences can have a negative impact on people’s social, economic and health outcomes.

“This can include experiences occurring during childhood as well as those occurring in adulthood. These kinds of experiences have been found to result in increased risk of poor health and social outcomes, as well as difficulties accessing or maintaining access to services.

“This can mean that those most in need of help will often be the ones who face the greatest barriers to accessing it.”

The motion seeks to “help people to overcome the effects of trauma, and improve both access to services and long-term outcomes”.

“This is particularly important in the context of the Coronavirus pandemic. National and international evidence has shown that the poorest and most marginalised people in society have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, and projections suggest that these communities will be hardest hit from an economic and social perspective in the longer-term.

“Many inequalities in our society have been brought into sharp contrast, while the role of local authorities and our partners in meeting the needs of the poorest people and communities has never been clearer.”