Category - Mental Health

1
Movement for Mental Health
2
Food as Medicine for Mental Health
3
The Power of Positivity and Reflection
4
Pillars for Mental Health
5
Adults: Three Things Youth Want Us to Know
6
The Winter Blues
7
Support for Survivors of Suicide Loss
8
Lamoille County Mental Health: 50 Years in the Making
9
The Developing Brain
10
Which ‘P’ Do You Choose to Be?

Movement for Mental Health

By: Julie Bomengen

“Get some exercise!” — I know you hear it all the time, but bear with me because while most people understand that exercise is good for the body, fewer of us think about the connections between movement and mental health. We are going to dive into why movement is a pillar for mental health and how being active on a daily basis supports optimal brain health, as well as emotional and mental well-being.

As hunters and gatherers, our ancestors moved to survive. Every day for the majority of each day, they sprinted, jogged, climbed, carried, and jumped intermittently, walking an average of 6 miles and running ½ to 1 mile each day. Needless to say, our human bodies were designed to move! Fast forward to today and research reveals that the typical U.S. adult is sedentary for 60% of their life and sits for six to seven hours per day.  Clearly, there is a mismatch between what we are designed to do and what we are doing, and this disconnect is having major implications for our physical health as well as our emotional and mental wellbeing.

So why does movement help mental health?

  • Moving our bodies is the simplest way to improve mood due to the endorphins and mood-boosting chemicals, serotonin and dopamine, that are released when we are active and engaged in something that is pleasurable. When we engage in regular, consistent activity, our brain’s dopamine receptors are sensitized which enhances the reward and pleasure experience. Movement becomes more and more rewarding and beneficial over time. Keep at it!
  • Symptoms of anxiety and depression have been found to decline when these same mood-boosting chemicals are released.
  • Stress can be reduced when we are active due to the increase in concentration of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that can modulate the brain’s response to stress.
  • Improved brainpower and memory enhancement results when we move our bodies because new brain cells are created through a process called neurogenesis. Workouts increase a brain protein called Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) which promotes the survival of neurons, thereby facilitating such things as decision-making, higher levels of thinking. and learning processes.
  • There’s something to be said for the feeling of confidence that comes with and after participating in something physical that challenges us.  Even when it’s hard or doesn’t yield the desired effect right off, there is the opportunity to feel strong, capable, motivated, and proud of what you did or what you are in the process of doing. By moving your body in any way, you are saying that you matter and have value — that is something that translates into self-love and confidence. Keep at it!! Today, tomorrow, and the day after that — just keep moving.
  • While you’re moving, move on out to the great outdoors! Research tells us that the extra Vitamin D that comes from the sunshine (even when it’s cloudy, we are getting some degree of Vitamin D), fresh air, and being among the healing elements of nature add to the overall mental health benefits of moving our bodies outside. Pick one outside activity to try out this week. How about a walk on the Rail-Trail?  Also, much has been written about the idea of “nature deficit disorder” in our population, particularly among children. Get your kids outside moving with you – you’ll be shaping lifelong behaviors that will serve you in profound and deeply meaningful ways.
  • Moving our bodies helps us relax more which, in turn, can support a healthy circadian rhythm which improves sleep, which in turn, makes us feel better, mentally and emotionally. See how all of this is inter-connected?! Check out my earlier post if you need a reminder of why sleep is also a pillar of mental health.
  • Engaging in some form of physical movement on a regular basis helps improve productivity and creativity.  Research is revealing that working for 45 minutes and then taking a 15 minute break and getting up and moving our bodies provides us with a burst of energy that improves productivity and brain functioning while also improving mood.
  • Moving our bodies can be even more beneficial when we move with others as we often feel more inspired and supported, and less alone when we are engaging in an activity with a friend or joining a group of people who are working towards a common goal. As one idea, how about contacting the Green Mountain Club and joining in one of their scheduled walks/hikes? Bring a friend along or make a new friend in the process.
  • People who are struggling with addictions of any kind benefit from having positive, healthy substitute behaviors to engage in. Our brains release dopamine – the reward chemical – when we are engaging in things that are pleasurable. Exercise can produce this pleasurable state, thereby offering the potential of being that substitute behavior for people who struggle with addiction. Also, movement reduces depressive symptoms and stress, which improves mood and has been shown to help diminish cravings for drugs and alcohol.

As you can see, physical movement is essential for positive mental health outcomes. Think about the activities you enjoyed as a kid – roller skating, swimming, dancing, hula hooping, playing basketball, rowing a boat, jumping rope, hiking through the woods, or walking along a stream. Find something you love and do it. Do it slowly at first, with a friend at times, alone with your thoughts at other times. Pick up the pace next time and feel your breath move through your body. Look around while you’re moving outside and find gratitude for the beauty of this community we live in. Breathe fully and deeply and find love and compassion for yourself, knowing that any movement or activity you engage in supports your body, your mind, and your emotional well-being. 

Resources to Further your Education and Information:

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/how-simply-moving-benefits-your-mental-health-201603289350

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/the-mental-health-benefits-of-exercise.htm

https://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/12/exercise

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-works-and-why/201803/how-your-mental-health-reaps-the-benefits-exercise

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/people-in-nature/200901/no-more-nature-deficit-disorder


Julie Bomengen is a Vermont Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC) with 22 years of experience in the field of mental health. Julie is also a Nutritional Therapy Consultant (NTC), a certification of the Nutritional Therapy Association. She lives, works and plays in Lamoille County.

Food as Medicine for Mental Health

By: Julie Bomengen

Around 400 BC, the Greek physician Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” While this quote is commonly used in reference to physical health (think about doctors prescribing heart-healthy diets to reduce rates of heart disease), in today’s blog post we will be extending the tenet of “Food As Medicine” to mental health as well. Indeed, recent research confirms what Hippocrates said so long ago: nutrition is a key pillar for supporting positive mental health outcomes. 

Simply put, our mood and food are intimately connected and bi-directional, each impacting the other. When we pay attention to the cues our bodies give us, we can often mitigate unwanted and unpleasant physical and emotional symptoms. For example, when I have clients tell me they are anxious, one of the first things I ask them about is their caffeine and sugar consumption. If you are experiencing a racing heart, pressured speech, or a cranked/on-edge nervous feeling, it may likely be that you have thrown your body chemistry out of balance by either over-consuming caffeine and/or eating too many-fast burning carbs which can lead to blood-sugar dysregulation or hypoglycemia, resulting in a yo-yo effect on your mood and energy levels. Perhaps an easy first step is to be curious about how you might feel differently if you were to reduce your caffeine use or eat a more nutrient-dense breakfast that stabilizes blood sugar levels and evens out your mood.

Did you know that our mental health is dependent on our body’s ability to make neurotransmitters, such as our “feel-good” chemicals, serotonin, dopamine, GABA, glutamate, and norepinephrine?  Did you know that we need amino acids to make the neurotransmitters and that amino acids come from the proteins we consume?  While the importance of eating good quality proteins cannot be overemphasized, it is equally as important that our bodies are digesting and breaking down these proteins into the amino acids that are the building blocks in the production of neurotransmitters. Approaching our consumption of food in a more intentional and slower manner and taking the time to awaken our senses as we eat is an important step in ensuring optimal digestion. With peak digestion comes prime production of the neurotransmitters that support positive mental health. 

Lastly, there is growing research on the link between gut permeability (a.k.a. leaky gut), inflammation in the body and depression. Doing whatever you can to reduce inflammation by watching your stress levels and eating the types of foods that soothe and heal your intestinal lining helps support positive mental health outcomes (more on this in a later blog post).

Specific steps that can support positive mental health:

  • Hydrate with water immediately upon waking. Drinking water supports cellular health and helps with mood, energy, mobility, and pain. Aim to consume 50% of your body weight in ounces of water every day. For example: If you weigh 150 pounds, shoot for 75 ounces of water per day. For every cup of caffeinated beverage you consume (these have a dehydrating effect on the body), compensate with an additional 2 cups of water.
  • Eat food before consuming your coffee in order to mitigate the impact of the caffeine on your body’s nervous system. 
  • Choose longer-lasting sources of foods in the morning to prevent the mood swings and irritability often associated with eating sugary, processed foods. For example, make a simple breakfast sandwich with bacon (cook a few pounds of bacon over the weekend and store it in your freezer for easy use throughout the week) or sausage, eggs and greens, or make a breakfast bowl with rice, quinoa, scrambled eggs, greens, and cheese. This website offers multiple ideas on how to start your day with superfoods that support your physical and mental health.
  • Eat your meals slowly, chewing each bite longer than you think you need to (or want to) to ensure the proper breakdown of nutrients in the body.
  • Consider consulting with some of our local nutritionists or working with a health coach who can help you follow-through on meal planning and support the changes that can sometimes be difficult to make initially.
  • Remember that even small changes will impact your mental health. Start to identify what foods make you feel poorly and what makes you feel best. Paying attention to how you feel helps. Keep a food/mood journal for 3-4 days, writing down everything you put into your mouth – solids and liquids. Notice your moods and digestive issues. Are you bloated and uncomfortable, is your heart racing, do you have energy, are you experiencing foggy brain, are you angry or irritable? Charting this information will help you remain objective and clear about what is and what is not supporting your mental and emotional health. Food is information, thereby, putting healthy ingredients into our bodies helps optimize both our physical and mental health and functioning.
  • Understand that Excitotoxins – aspartame, sugars, artificial sweeteners – all have an impact on our focus, energy, and mood. Consider exchanging them for stevia, raw honey, or maple syrup. Similarly, eliminating additives and preservatives from foods will reduce their damaging impact on your mood.
  • Eliminate harmful trans fats and oils, which lead to inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. As you work to decrease inflammatory processes by using healthy fats and oils like extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, grass-fed butter, you will be supporting optimal mental health functioning and reducing the risk of depressive symptoms.

Additional Resources to Further your Education and Information:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/201509/when-food-is-medicine

https://www.apa.org/monitor/2017/09/food-mental-health

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/rhythms-recovery/201703/eat-right-feel-right-mental-health-nutrition

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/28/well/eat/food-mood-depression-anxiety-nutrition-psychiatry.html?utm_campaign=Chris%20Kresser&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=71957723&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-_XeO7wHLYkxiu89irzH7xIryxnphpBSEiG-mBm2s66VwSbfQV4jPINyWWiq582Wj6EaACKW-vtinV-rd5ifqtjbpE2WQ&_hsmi=71957723


Julie Bomengen is a Vermont Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC) with 22 years of experience in the field of mental health. Julie is also a Nutritional Therapy Consultant (NTC), a certification of the Nutritional Therapy Association. She lives, works and plays in Lamoille County.

The Power of Positivity and Reflection

By: Leah Hollenberger

Northern Vermont University recently held its “Dinner with the Boss,” an event that welcomes students and alumni to give students experience in networking. Alumni were asked to share one “gem” they felt would be most helpful to students just beginning their journey in pursuing their chosen career. The advice was excellent, thought-provoking, and inspirational.

Common to each piece of advice was the importance of being authentic to yourself, using reflection to determine what is truly meaningful to you, and the strength of community. In short, embracing your heart as well as your mind and nurturing connectivity.

It reminded me of an exercise I did years ago as a participant in the ALIGN pilot program at Marlboro College. Through self-examination, careful observation, and reflection, I was able to develop a short specific list of what I need to have in my life on a monthly basis to stay healthy, positive, and engaged – what I would define as a successful life. I keep this list, typed out, in my desk drawer and I refer to it when I am frustrated, overwhelmed or stressed out. Typically, I quickly determine that I’ve neglected one of those items and refocus my actions. The exercise effectively improved my ability to reframe challenges in a positive, nurturing perspective instead of from an unhealthy, negative framework. Change is constant and I continue to use these tools that embrace heart and mind, my “attitude of gratitude,”  to guide me in meaningful action.

There are many programs, books, blogs, and Instagram accounts available today that embrace this authenticity and provide tools to individuals and communities.

  • Marlboro College continues to offer a similar leadership program to the pilot in which I participated.
  • The Positive Education movement, based on the work of Martin Seligman’s work in positive psychology, embraces heart and mind via curriculum and in-school programming.
  • Resiliency efforts, including the Resilience Beyond Incarceration program with the Lamoille Restorative Center and programs at the Lamoille Family Center that address Adverse Childhood Experiences, utilize this work.
  • Whole Heart, Inc. has a wellness model, similar to the exercise I did, that gives you a way to personally define your successful life.
  • Ted Talks has several presentations regarding positive psychology.   

My favorite piece of advice from “Dinner with the Boss” was a spur-of-the-moment adlib from an experienced educator. It demonstrated heart and mind by showing how a simple action can guarantee inclusivity without making a person declare a need while at the same time increasing the odds that her key message would be heard. What was the advice? “Always use the microphone.”

What tools do you use to encourage authenticity? What advice would you give a young person starting to pursue their career? 


Leah Hollenberger is the Development and External Relations Officer for Northern Vermont University. She helped create the Live Well Lamoille Blog while serving as Vice President of Marketing, Development, and Community Relations for Copley Hospital. A former award-winning TV and Radio producer, she is the mother of two and spends her free time volunteering, cooking, playing outdoors, and producing textile arts. Leah writes about community events, preventive care, and assorted ideas to help one make healthy choices.

Pillars for Mental Health

By: Julie Bomengen

Hello! I’m excited to offer you my first Live Well Lamoille blog post.  I will be covering topics related to Mental Health and hope that what I share will be interesting, educational, and applicable to you in your lives. I will be speaking about mental health from a Mind-Body approach which will include biological, psychological, and social perspectives. This style is inclusive, holistic, and integrated, and will allow for an exploration of mental health that is educational and functional.

The work I do as an outpatient mental health therapist includes discussion of “Pillars of Health.” These Pillars serve as the foundation for health and wellness and are paramount to any discussion about mental and emotional well-being. Pillars include:

  • Attention to Quality of Sleep and understanding the influence of our body’s Circadian Rhythms
  • Regular Physical Movement and Activities that are engaging and fun
  • Nutrient-Dense Foods that support optimal health for the individual
  • Involvement in a Supportive and Caring Community
  • Positive Personal and Intimate Relationships that are enduring, loving, and reliable
  • Meaningful Engagement in Work (paid or voluntary)
  • and lastly, a Robust Toolbox of Skills and Resources to Manage Current Stressors and/or Past Traumas.

I would argue that when we pay attention and subscribe to these Pillars of Health, the majority of disturbances in our health and wellbeing can and will be mitigated, if not eliminated. While it will always remain true that we cannot control for every variable that impacts our health and wellbeing, there is a hopefulness that comes with knowing that we have more agency and ability to manage and shape our health than we might have believed. Of course, if optimal health was achieved simply by knowing about these “Pillars,” we’d all be in good shape.

The truth is we benefit from a supportive environment in which to address our health goals. It can be hard to make and sustain changes, and due to bioindividuality (the fact that each of us has very specific needs for his or her own health according to age, constitution, gender, size, lifestyle, and ancestry), there is no “one size fits all” formula. Still, there are common themes and clear ways to feel better from the inside out. 

My goal is to help you understand and feel confident about how to take charge of your Mental Health. I look forward to teasing apart the “Pillars” and discussing other important and pressing themes such as addiction, depression, anxiety, and suicide, as well as the impact of a sedentary lifestyle and excessive screen time, and how a deficiency of time spent in nature all contribute to poor behavioral health outcomes.

For now, start paying attention to each of your own Pillars of Health and complete a self-inventory to determine which ones might need support and reinforcing. For example, ask yourself:

  • How is the quality of my sleep? Do I feel rested in the morning?
  • Am I moving my body in some way every day?  What impact does movement have on my mood?
  • Am I feeding my body and brain the nutrients it needs to function well? How are my moods impacted by what I eat or when I eat? 
  • Am I involved in some type of supportive community? If not, why? 
  • Are my relationships strong and reliable? How do these relationships impact my attitude or mood?
  • Am I doing work that I enjoy and find meaningful? Do I have effective outlets for managing stress?

Take some notes and stay tuned for how to optimize your mental and emotional health!

Best,  Julie


Julie Bomengen is a Vermont Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC) with 22 years of experience in the field of mental health. Julie is also a Nutritional Therapy Consultant (NTC), a certification of the Nutritional Therapy Association. She lives, works and plays in Lamoille County.

Adults: Three Things Youth Want Us to Know

By: Jessica Bickford, Coordinator, Healthy Lamoille Valley

Mental Health in Teenagers

One of the things I love most about my work is connecting with students. Recently I had the opportunity to meet with three Lamoille Valley students. As part of our conversation, I asked them what they wished adults knew…  Here’s what they had to say:

“Depression, anxiety, and insecurity are real in our lives.” While adults struggle with these things, our students are experiencing them, often for the first time, without the tools that adults have learned. As adults, we need to acknowledge these feelings as real and very pressing. Students have limited life experiences to reference and are making life-altering decisions that will shape the rest of their lives.  Honor these feelings and be there to help.

Similarly, “Stress is real.”  There are a lot of things that youth have to manage. Create opportunities to develop skills and habits to manage stress. These can be simple things: talking, listening to music, going for a walk/run, journaling, creating art, physical activity, and learning to know what you can do and how to say “no.” This last concept is key… youth don’t want to let anyone down… friends, teachers, parents… it’s easy for them to overcommit to avoid hurting others’ feelings. Learning to look at their schedules, balance their time, and say “no” gracefully are important life skills.

“Recognize that we have different personalities and enjoy different things. Provide opportunities to develop our unique skills.” Many students like to help, but as adults, we should be aware of their personalities and interests and find ways to meet those interests and build those skills. As an example, one person may love to speak and be out front while another enjoys helping behind the scenes. Embrace their personalities!

I encourage you to take time to ask the youth in your life, “What do you wish the adults in your life know about being a teen?” or “Life seems pretty stressful right now, how can I support you better?”  Then really listen and find ways to show that you heard them. When you do this, you’re building protective factors* for youth.  You’re showing them that they matter and opening up opportunities for future conversations!

* Healthy Lamoille Valley is a substance abuse prevention coalition working to reduce youth substance abuse. Find out more at healthylamoillevalley.org. Youth who have strong protective factors are less likely to rely on substances such as alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana to manage stress or find value. 


Jessica Bickford works as a Coordinator of Healthy Lamoille Valley, where she has enjoyed writing for their blog. Writing for Copley’s community blog is a natural extension of this experience! Healthy Lamoille Valley focuses on making healthy choices easy choices, realizing that when we have access to healthy options we are less likely to choose behaviors that are harmful. Prevention is really a lifestyle of wise choices that enable us to live life to the fullest.

The Winter Blues

By: Caleb Magoon

Seasonal Affective Disorder

In my blog posts, I normally talk about staying active, fit and healthy. Of course, this is my wheelhouse. But this month I’m tackling a different subject: the all-too-familiar winter blues.

I’m generally a positive and upbeat person. I also love winter. I like to play in the snow and make the most of it, no matter the condition. But just a couple weeks ago something happened- I was in a bad car accident that has left me injured. Though my injury isn’t severe, it has left me unable to participate in many of the winter activities that bring me joy during these challenging months.

This has been a profound awakening for me. While I undergo rehab to get back to form, I now have a much greater understanding of and respect for those who are not able-bodied. The challenges of staying upbeat in our long winter become even harder with even modest limitations. So do mundane tasks like shoveling snow and walking down the road when your body can’t keep up.

What can we do but adapt? This can be very hard for someone like myself with set ways and ideas of how my winter should be. But adapting and making adjustments is the only way to stay positive. Here are some thoughts I have about the process:

  • Do what you can! Walking is widely recognized as an excellent exercise. It’s considerably lower speed than I am used to but necessary. It’s forced me to slow things down and take stock. This is good for both physical and mental recovery. Don’t discount the importance of some quiet time to think.
  • Stretch – Anyone can do it. A little physical therapy and stretching can do everyone good. It’s also the gateway to more robust activity. There are so many resources online that it’s easy to get started.
  • Exercise is mental – Every time I ski or bike I am helping my body and my mind. While my body must take it easy for the immediate future, I need to focus on sharpening my mind. I am reading the paper a bit more, writing in a journal about things going on in my life and working to reflect on the good things in life. Stay positive.
  • Set some goals – We all want to get back out. Setting modest goals will help the downtime fly by and keep you focused on recovery. We all want to be ready to enjoy that first sunny, 50-degree day in March. Be ready for it!
  • Don’t forget to socialize – Mental health is greatly improved when we engage with other people. Taking myself out of my routine pulls me away from the people I normally interact with. I tend to pull back from people and isolate a bit. This isn’t healthy. In situations like this, we all need to go out of our way to stay engaged with others.

I now recognize the challenges of those who are less able-bodied to get through our long winters. You can make it through by staying positive and focusing on doing the things we are able to do.


Caleb Magoon is a Hyde Park native who grew up hiking, hunting, biking and exploring Vermont’s Green Mountains. His passions for sports and recreation have fueled his career as the owner of Power Play Sports and Waterbury Sports. Caleb encourages outdoor activity and believes it is an essential element to a healthy lifestyle and the Vermont way of life. Caleb serves the Lamoille Valley by volunteering on numerous community boards such as the Lamoille County Planning Commission, The Morrisville Alliance for Commerce and Culture, Mellow Velo, and the state chapter of The Main Street Alliance. He lives, plays and works in Hyde Park with his wife Kerrie.

Support for Survivors of Suicide Loss

Death by suicide is complicated as is the survivor grief that follows. Did you know:

  • Grief is unpredictable.
  • Grief is complicated.
  • Grief is not one emotion, but many.
  • Grief is exhausting.
  • Grief ambushes you.
  • Grief never really goes away.
  • Grief permeates all aspects of life.
  • Grief is a process, not an event.
  • Only you know how much time you need to grieve.

Monique Reil of Lamoille County Mental Health Services and Jane Paine with Lamoille Home Health & Hospice are coordinating a support group for survivors of suicide loss. Please join us in this safe, confidential space to share your story or just to be surrounded by those who understand and care.

The Survivors of Suicide Loss (SOSL) support group meets the last Wednesday of each month from 6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. For location details, call Jane Paine at 888-4651 or Monique Reil at 888-5026.

Lamoille County Mental Health: 50 Years in the Making

By: Savi Van Sluytman, CEO, Lamoille County Mental Health Services

A half-century ago, Lamoille County Mental Health opened its doors to serve the community.  Like you, we know that our neighbors have good days and bad days, ups and downs. It is our commitment that when our neighbors need help, we will be there to reach out a hand.

In the 50 years that we have been serving the Lamoille Valley, the way we respond to the needs of our neighbors has drastically changed. Much of our work happens right in the communities where our consumers live—in their homes, in their schools, in their child care programs, in their jobs.  We know that the best path to health and wellness is the one that ensures a full, meaningful life. A steady job, success in school, strong relationships and good friends, good nutrition and healthy exercise, feeling the sun on our faces and clean, fresh air in our lungs.

Every day at Lamoille County Mental Health, we are taking steps to ensure that no one in our community falls through the cracks. We provide the safety net that so many Vermonters need at some point in their lives. Many of us live here because, yes, it’s a place of rare and often breathtaking beauty, but also because we hold common values: that when a neighbor slides off the road on a snowy afternoon, we stop to help. When someone is struggling with an internal battle, we reach out a hand. Every Vermonter should be able to live healthy, productive lives.

We provide the safety net that so many Vermonters need at some point in their lives. In a state such as this, no one should go hungry, which is why we have a food shelf that on any given week is stocked with fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats, and non-perishable items.

If someone is struggling with the confidence they need to get back to work, we bridge that gap, empowering them to find and keep a job. We help them with every step where they need a guiding hand, and when they are ready to take the next step alone, we step back—but not away.

When someone is struggling with homelessness, we fight fiercely to find housing for them.  When transportation is a barrier to work, our supported employment dispatch team ensures that they can get there. We combat isolation by bringing people together for music and yoga classes, lunch, Special Olympics teams and support groups. After a few athletes in our community expressed interest in creating a Special Olympics swim team this fall, we found a head coach and we are scouring the community for assistant coaches and swim partners to accompany athletes in the pool, as well as a sponsor to cover the cost of using the pool at Johnson State College—please reach out if you are interested!

As we look to 2018 and our 51st year, we are thrilled to bridge community partnerships as we work to implement a capital campaign to support community needs. Our 2018 capital campaign goals are to:

  • Build an Imagination Center to benefit children with autism, behavioral and learning disabilities, as well as for elders with dementia;
  • Fund the Tiny House Project. Build four independent living “tiny houses” for people with developmental disabilities on the Oasis House property;
  • Provide matching funds to support the creation of affordable housing for people at risk of homelessness in community centers where it does not currently exist.

With these efforts, we seek to better serve the needs of our most vulnerable citizens.  To learn more, visit www.lamoille.org.

 

The Developing Brain

By: Rebecca Copans

Lucy, 3 years old, heading to her first day of preschool.

As a parent, you want nothing more than for your child to be happy and healthy, to make friends, and to be accepted and integrated with their peers. When one of those pieces doesn’t fall into place as you would hope, you start asking questions.  You talk to your friends and neighbors, you ask for help from your primary care provider, and you call Lamoille County Mental Health Services.

From when she was a toddler, my daughter Lucy struggled with communicating her needs in a socially acceptable way.  As an infant, we taught her baby sign language and she was incredibly proficient in verbal language at an early age. Also from a young age, however, she was paralyzed by social pressures and extreme shyness. When she was three and entered preschool, it didn’t go well. A brand new teacher fresh out of college combined with some energetic kids is a recipe for chaos. Sprinkle in social, emotional and behavioral challenges, and it can be a recipe for disaster.

It all came to a head when we were invited to a birthday party in March, seven months into the program and I saw firsthand what she had been trying to tell me week after week. She would come home and say, “No one played with me today.” Or, “I don’t have any friends at school.”  Impossible, I thought. This is preschool, where they learn to be friends and care about each other equally—right? Wrong. It was like watching a car wreck. I was rooted to the spot, transfixed as parents chatted around me, oblivious to the scene that our children were playing out with each other. There were leaders and followers, cliques and bullying, and passive-aggressive exclusion that was closer to how seventh-grade girls infamously treat each other. This was a 4-year old’s birthday party. I was shocked. I have never felt so acutely that I failed as a parent. I didn’t listen to this tiny little person tell me over and over that she needed help figuring out how to navigate an incredibly stressful situation. It was like a language that everyone else could speak but her.

We asked for advice, I cried a whole lot, and ultimately we changed schools. Within three weeks of being enrolled in her new school, her teachers surged to action. We created a plan and began pulling in an incredible array of wrap-around services.They suggested screenings and behavioral interventions and within months and with some incredible people in her corner, things began slowly to improve, tiny step by tiny step.

From under a porch chair “fort”, 5 year old Lucy weaves a story for her brother Hazen.

Lucy, who suffers from a heady mix of debilitating shyness, ADHD and learning disabilities, was taught to scaffold mental prompts that allow most children seemingly automatically to wait for a turn at the paper towel dispenser (rather than pushing past to avoid having to think of something to say—and then say it—to the child blocking her way), to wait quietly in line to go outside for recess, to ask a teacher for help navigating a problem, or, the Everest: to ask “can I play?” Working with the behavioral interventionist, we created a playbook so that her family and her teachers were all working from the same place and using the same language.

Those early interventions helped to rewire her brain. She was given the tools to ask with her words rather than by hurling her body through space, and was able to integrate gracefully into playing with her peers by having a coach whispering prompts in her ear. As those prompts become ingrained, and with her incredible early educators mimicking the behavior interventionist’s language, the social fabric of her life became more normalized. By the time she entered Kindergarten, that coach standing by her shoulder was no longer needed, and in fact, her problem-solving skills became tools that her Kindergarten peers learned from Lucy.

When Lucy was a toddler, we thought that her actions were simply normal—we had nothing to compare it to. We thought parenting was simply the hardest job on the planet and didn’t realize how much help was available in the community. I didn’t know that our designated mental health agency or our local parent-child center offered resources for someone with Lucy’s developmental challenges, and for us, as parents raising her. I had the misconception that those agencies were reserved only for low-income Vermonters. We had no idea where to turn and grew increasingly panicked.

Studies from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University have shown that in the first years of life, a developing brain forms one million connections every second. By the age of by the age of five, 90% of the brain is developed. If we had waited until Lucy reached Kindergarten before putting behavior interventions in place, the work in bending her trajectory would have become much more difficult.

Lucy is far from alone on her path. A 2015 VT Digger story noted,

“Vermont has the highest rate of identifying students with emotional disturbance in the country. As a percentage of all students who received special education services in the 2012-13 school year in Vermont, about 16 percent were identified with an emotional disturbance, according to federal data. That is more than twice the national average of 6.3 percent.”

Some experts have argued that Vermont is simply doing a better job than other states at early identification and intervention.

During the 2016-2017 School Year, the School-Based Clinician Program at Lamoille County Mental Health supported over 120 children like Lucy from preschool-age to high school seniors. These dedicated individuals provided individual, group, and team support for students in their learning environments. School-Based Clinicians teach and practice mindfulness techniques with children, organize running and fitness groups, support skill development in the areas of self-advocacy, self-regulation, identifying and verbalizing emotional states, peer conflict resolution, verbal and non-verbal communication, and development of reciprocal play skills. They also facilitate training sessions for an increase in trauma-informed approaches in schools. These services are now available in 12 schools with a potential to serve over 200 children in the Lamoille Valley.

The Redwood Program at LCMHS contracts with school districts to offer wrap-around, full-year behavioral interventions for children. The children engaged in the program during the school year then attend a six-week summer camp that has precipitously lowered the crisis rate for kids returning to school in the fall. The Redwood Summer Camp is free for students enrolled in the Redwood Program and prevents a lot of kids from needing more expensive therapies. It maintains structure for the children during the summer and builds and strengthens the relationships between the kids and the incredible cohort of behavioral interventionists.

At 7 years old, Lucy is thriving with school-based supports.

The Access Program at LCMHS offers Community Skills Work (CSW), allowing children to connect with this service when in crisis. At its peak this year, the CSW Program served approximately 60 children at one time. In addition to weekly visits with children, the program also supports activities such as Wellness Camp, Children’s Emotional Wellness Day and the Resource Parent Curriculum Plus (RPC+) Children’s Group—an incredible program that supports placement stability for children in foster care. The CSW Program is connected with several local organizations, offering access to activities such as swimming, ice skating, gyms, game rooms, and State Parks.

During that first year of preschool, I was sure that Lucy would never be able to succeed socially in school.  Now as a second grader, she has wonderful friends, she is successful in dance and gymnastics, she is able to have playdates that don’t reliably devolve into tears, and on any given day a stranger in the grocery store wouldn’t know the challenges she faces—all things that would have seemed impossible four years ago. Without those early interventions, this trajectory would be heading in a very different direction. When parents are at a loss as to how to help their child, they need to know that they aren’t alone and that help can be found right here in Lamoille. Parenting is hard in the best of situations and if you are struggling, some days it just feels impossible. Support is just right down the street. If you or someone you know could use some help with a child who is struggling, don’t wait until it’s a crisis to ask for help.

If you or a child you know needs help, call Lamoille County Mental Health at (802) 888-5026 or visit www.lamoille.org.


Rebecca Copans has worked extensively in government affairs, public relations and communications. As a society, our greatest potential lies with our children. With this basic tenant firmly in mind, Rebecca worked most recently with the Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children and now with Lamoille County Mental Health to secure a stronger foundation for all Vermont families. 

A graduate of the University of Vermont and Dartmouth College, Rebecca holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in globalization. Her thesis concentration was the history and societal use of language and its effect on early cognitive development. She lives in Montpelier with her husband and three children.

Which ‘P’ Do You Choose to Be?

By: Michele Whitmore

I am a positive person. In fact, people often ask me how I stay so positive. My response is that I choose to be. There are days when it would be much easier to choose the other ‘P’ (pessimism), but as I have learned from many others, the easy way is not always the right way or the best way when making a decision. Here are a few tips that I have used to help me stay on the positive path.

  • Whether your day will be a positive one or not is a choice we all make before getting out of bed. So, first thing in the morning, make the decision to have a positive day. Sure, some things may go south, but try not to let that impact the rest of your day.
  • Live life simply. Don’t try to keep up with anyone but yourself.
  • If your life is feeling a bit dysfunctional, remember: we all have our own challenges or dysfunctions. It’s kinda normal. And it’s ok.
  • Find time for self-reflection or self-improvement. Our lives are busy; we often over–schedule ourselves. It’s important to take time each day to “meet with ourselves” – check in, breathe deep, shut off your mind for a few minutes, and just be.

We all have this choice to make every day. Choose wisely and own it.


Michele Whitmore is the Associate Dean of Students at Johnson State College. She works closely with Student Service Departments within the College to provide purposeful events to students that will strengthen their professional leadership, personal growth, life skills development and social engagement. Thus far, the College has provided educational programs that cover LGBTQ issues, alcohol and drug use, sexual assault prevention, socio-economic struggles, and healthy choices related to eating well and being fit, to name a few.

Michele writes about the outreach and program opportunities that enhance the wellness of a campus community.