Since the 1990s, doctors have used the Adverse Childhood Experience Study--or ACES--to understand what causes mental health problems in children.

That study found that negative experiences in childhood--from abuse to even divorce--can shape the mental health of kids as they grow up.

Amy Pierce, now a certified peer specialist, began feeling the real impact of depression in sixth grade.

“My parents actually took me to see a psychiatrist. They knew something was different. Something was wrong,” she said. “It was at that age you know you're growing, everybody is doing different stuff and life was pretty dark.”

The depression worsened in high school. After a number of suicide attempts, Pierce landed in the hospital her junior year---the first of her nearly 50 hospitalizations.

 “You can imagine at that age back in the late 80s in East Texas, the impact that that had,” she said. “I really got the impact of the stigma. My parents didn’t tell anybody what was going on, where I was at.”

Pierce doesn’t pinpoint one event as the cause of her depression, but she acknowledges experiencing what psychiatrists call “Adverse Childhood Experiences” or “ACES.”

Mark Janes is a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Bluebonnet Trails. Each time a new patient comes in for treatment, they complete a survey. The questions range from physical or verbal abuse, to exposure to alcoholics, drug users and if the parents have separated.

 “The more questions that were affirmatively answered that these events did happen, there was a much higher risk of having chronic disease,” Janes said. “I know for me personally, when I'm seeing kids, probably fully three-fourths have significant adverse events.”

Doctors say two-thirds of individuals identify at least one traumatic event, but breaking point though is typically four or more.  For Pierce, it felt like there wasn’t any hope until a doctor at the Terrell State Hospital finally got through.

“Just because you may have a diagnosis, just because you may have these struggles, doesn’t mean life is over,” Pierce said. “It just means you’re having a bump in the road.”

Pierce says learning to share her experiences with others truly paved the way to her recovery. She started the first peer mentor program in the state hospital system.

“It's not a life sentence,” Pierce said. “Life's not over. You didn't do anything wrong. And there's help and there's support. It really is a journey.”

A journey that now has Pierce applying her own experiences to save the lives of others.

If you'd like more information on the mental health resources available in our area, you can reach out to your local health district or call 211.