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Addressing adverse childhood experiences

Traumatic events in children’s lives can lead to problems later in life.
It seems obvious, but researchers wanted to know more.
Scientific research has identified physical and mental health problems linked to early childhood trauma events known as adverse childhood experiences or ACEs. 
“Thru extensive research, they have identified common risk factors in people that often develop physical and emotional problems as they become teenagers and young adults,” explained Thomas Mott, director of counseling services for Vermont Catholic Charities Inc. “Not all children who experience one ACE event (or two) will have problems later in life. However, the research has shown that the greater the number of ACEs in childhood, the greater the chance for health problems down the road. The research also identified the factors that can help protect a child from trauma events and increase their resilience to future problems.”
He is part of a team of people and a nationwide initiative called “Building Flourishing Communities,” which, in Vermont, is supported by the Vermont Department of Health and the Department of Children and Families.
The initiative is promoting public awareness of the scientific research that has identified the physical and mental health problems linked to early childhood trauma events.
The goal is talking about ACEs will raise public awareness and decrease the occurrence of future ACEs in children, thus, improving individual lives, their families and the community at large.
Local presentations on the topic will take place in various locations in Chittenden County. The first will be on Jan. 18 at St. Francis Xavier School in Winooski from 6:30 to 8 p.m. The second presentation will take place Feb. 14 at Flynn Elementary School in Burlington from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Future ones will take place in Milton and Essex Junction.
Examples of ACEs include being verbally, physically or sexually abused; being subjected to threats of bodily harm; feeling neglected or unloved by family; not having enough food to eat or clothes to wear; losing a biological parent through divorce or abandonment; witnessing one’s mother being pushed, grabbed, slapped or hit; living with someone who is a problem drinker or uses street drugs; having a family member who is depressed or mentally ill; or having a household member attempt suicide or be incarcerated.
“ACEs impact the individual, who in turn influences their family members. Similarly, families that act in unhealthy ways influence other families and the communities they live in,” said Mott whose participation in the ACE’s project is part of his ministry as a mental health and substance abuse counselor for Vermont Catholic Charities.
“Vermont Catholic Charities is committed to supporting people and families in need. By helping to strengthen families, we support our local communities and the activities of the Catholic Church throughout Vermont,” he said. “It’s important the Catholic Church play a role in community activities so that people see we put words into action.”
Future ACEs can be prevented when parents, grandparents and other care givers learn how their words and actions have a direct influence on children, for good and bad, he said, adding that “by educating people about childhood trauma, we can help prevent future generations from being mistreated and develop personal resilience to life’s challenges.”
Recent conversations have focused on domestic violence. “Our clergy and many laypeople started conversations about the topic, and women started to say ‘No’ to abuse,” Mott said. “Women sought help from battered women’s shelters and some entered into counseling. We are extending that conversation to childhood trauma now. Our goal is to promote awareness and knowledge so that future generations of children will be free of trauma.”
For more information, contact Vermont Catholic Charities at 802-658-6111.
  • Published in Diocesan

Help with addiction recovery

Not everyone who drinks alcohol becomes an alcoholic, “but, we know that most alcoholics began as binge drinkers,” said Thomas Mott, director of counseling services for Vermont Catholic Charities Inc. “Alcohol, or ethyl alcohol, is a drug that can result in social and psychological problems as well as chemical dependence if consumed to excess over time.”
He noted that ethyl alcohol is almost chemically identical to ether, which once was used in hospitals to sedate patients and prepare them for surgery. “Alcohol also sedates people, and if consumed to excess can render them unconscious just as ether was once used,” Mott said.
Because of the similarity of the effect of alcohol and other drugs on the body, people often simply use the term “drug addiction” or “drugs” when referring to alcohol and other substances that impact the brain.
Drug abuse is generally thought of in terms of the social problems it can cause. These may include arguments with family members, warning notices from an employer for being late or out sick from a hangover or forgetting other important dates. “When we talk about drug dependence, we not only see the common abuse problems, but, we also see signs of developing a physical tolerance to the drug and withdrawal symptoms when the body starts noticing the drug isn’t being delivered on time or in the amount it has grown accustomed to,” Mott explained. “Put another way, someone who is dependent not only wants it, but needs it to feel ‘normal.’”
The most commonly abused drugs in Vermont are alcohol, marijuana, opiates, nicotine, benzodiazepines and cocaine because they generally are readily available, cheap to buy and in the case of alcohol and nicotine, legal for adults. “With marijuana, there is the false belief that it is a harmless plant with no lasting impact on the body,” Mott said.
He encourages people who recognize they have a substance abuse problem to meet with an outpatient substance abuse counselor who can complete a thorough evaluation and make a professional recommendation about further treatment.   Outpatient counselors are well informed about inpatient rehab treatment centers, admission requirements, cost, insurance coverage and other critical factors that need to be considered to make an informed decision.
“Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Nar-Anon and other 12- step programs are excellent programs, and I highly recommend them,” Mott said. “Their track record in helping people get sober and clean is outstanding. In my experience, they are vital to maintaining long-term sobriety.”
He also recommends Celebrate Recovery, a program that has helped thousands of people receive support and encouragement to live a life in recovery. 
Vermont Catholic Charities has three addiction experts on staff that have years of experience identifying, assessing and diagnosing and treating addiction on an outpatient basis. “We can answer questions, give suggestions and recommend smart choices for the person struggling with addiction and their family members,” Mott said.
For more information about addiction or mental health issues, call Vermont Catholic Charities at 1-877-250-4099 or 802-658-6111, ext. 1318.  All calls are confidential and private. 
Another option for help is to email Mott at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to set up a convenient and private time to talk on the phone.
“The Catholic Charities counseling service is committed to reducing the impact of drug addiction and domestic violence in our communities,” he said. “Please don’t hesitate to call us. We are here to help.”

Sad or depressed?

Are you feeling sad most of the day -- nearly every day -- or having depressed moods? Do you feel irritable or hopeless or have problems with sleep and changes in appetite?
These could be signs of clinical depression.
In severe cases, there might be thoughts of hurting oneself or of suicide.
“Signs of depression should always be taken seriously as a medical problem that can be treated,” said Thomas Mott, director of counseling services for Vermont Catholic Charities Inc.
Normally, sadness comes and goes, depending on the circumstances and the person’s level of resilience to occasional disappointment or setbacks. Sadness often is centered on the loss of someone or something important such as the death of a loved one, a family pet, a divorce or a friend moving to another state.
“We expect sadness to lift after a period of healing, reflection and using resources such as the comforting words from someone we care about or talking to a mental health counselor,” Mott said. “When the sadness doesn’t lift, it’s a sign that professional help may be needed to regain a sense of hope and confidence in the future.”
He recommends that if people are depressed, they should talk to a trusted friend or relative and let them know what they are thinking and feeling. If this doesn’t provide relief, he suggests calling Vermont Catholic Charities Counseling Services to speak with a clinician for next-step advice.
“Besides those suffering from some adjustment issues in their lives the majority of patients I have treated present, in therapy, with sadness and/or depression because of an ongoing unresolved adjustment in their life,” said Sheila A. Conroy, a clinical therapist at Catholic Charities in Middlebury. “Usually depression is chronic, lasting two weeks and usually longer and typically lacks an identifying cause. Sadness typically has a specific cause” or causes.
If someone is feeling suicidal, he or she should call the local mental health agency crisis hotline or 911 or go immediately to the emergency department of the local hospital. “The key point is to tell someone and seek help right away,” Mott said.
Medication is not always necessary to treat depression. All Vermont Catholic Charities clinicians have years of experience treating depression. If medication may be helpful, the clinician can consult with the client’s primary care physician or prescribing physician to discuss a collaborative effort to treat depression.
“To maximize the treatment of depression, clients should make sure they exercise, eat a balanced diet and maintain good sleep hygiene practices,” Mott advises. Clients who drink alcohol or take prescribed medication should always consult with their physician about their depression.
“Depression and anxiety are the most common reasons why people come to Vermont Catholic Charities for counseling,” he said. “We have very effective strategies and tips that can be very helpful. We want people to know depression is a medical condition that can be treated successfully. There is no reason to feel ashamed or to admit one could use a little help.”
It is normal to feel sad from time to time. “But, when it lingers on with no end in sight, it is time to speak with a clinician at Catholic Charities. We care and we want to help you,” Mott said.
Faith, he noted, can be helpful in coping with depression, reducing it and guarding against it returning. “Trusting in God’s love and care for His children has been a timeless source of comfort and hope for one’s future,” he said.
Many patients have described depression as a kind of intense grief. It is a deep sadness, like heartbreak, agony and despair all at once. Some claim depression is worse than grief because grief has an identifiable cause.
“My experience with patients with and without faith is that with faith there is a sense of hope and hope can be a motivating factor to seek help and to know that things can get better,” Conroy said.
Faith and spiritually can also bring one to prayer gatherings and services which can cut through some the isolation that patients with depression often describe.
“For myself, without the knowledge of that there is a God who will care for us, no matter what the severity of the depression/grief there is an anchor and life beyond our pain,” she said.
For more information, call Vermont Catholic Charities at 802-658-6111, ext. 1318, or toll free 1-877-250-4099.

Originally published in the 2017 spring issue of Vermont Catholic Magazine.
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