Everyone deserves a healthy, happy childhood. But we know that children have been struggling. Kids today are facing pressure, anxiety and stress that’s led to an unprecedented mental health crisis that we at Children’s Minnesota see every day in our hospitals. Children desperately need access to the full spectrum of mental health care, no matter where they are on their journey. As we join other leaders in the region to deliver that care — including soon expanding our day treatment programs and inpatient mental health services – we are listening to families about their experience with mental health struggles. Here is one family’s story from a mom’s perspective:
The last week of August 2021 is one my family will never forget. Our 17-year-old son decided he “wasn’t strong enough” anymore and attempted to take his life. Thankfully, he wasn’t successful, but this attempt landed him at Children’s Minnesota’s hospital in Saint Paul for a week.
On top of trying to process everything that was happening and trying to help my son, COVID made things so much more complicated. He was cleared medically, but he tested positive for COVID which complicated his admittance to an in-patient mental health center. These facilities required three negative tests before he could be admitted, and that was assuming there was even room for him – which was already such a struggle. Space would open at one facility, but their COVID rules varied, setting us back on a daily basis. This cycle of positive/negative tests went on for six days. To say this was frustrating is an understatement. We were thankful for our social worker, Stephen, who was meeting daily with our son. He was doing all he could to find a place for him, yet COVID was too much of a risk for shutting down these inpatient mental health facilities.
Our first night at Children’s [Minnesota], we learned that when a minor attempts suicide, a nurse is required to be present in the room 24/7. The nurses who stayed in his room were amazing. They weren’t trained psychologists, but several of them took the time to truly connect with our son, who was angry and impatient the first few days. One nurse shared some of her own life struggles as a high school student, and this really resonated with our son and gave him hope. For her, we are forever grateful.
Navigating the mental health care system was challenging, even moreso with COVID and the timing of his stay (near Labor Day weekend). However, we were fortunate to have Stephen advocating for our son the entire time. As frustrating as it was not being able to get him into a treatment facility, it was a blessing to have him completely disconnected from social media, texting and friends. That period of isolation allowed him to reflect on what happened and got him to a point where Stephen felt a tele-visit with a Children’s [Minnesota] psychologist might finally allow him to go home. The meeting was arranged and the doctor, upon the condition our son meet with his therapist (whom he had been seeing off and on for a few years), allowed him to leave.
Breaking the mental health stigma is crucial because so many people in positions of influence over youth don’t always know how to address someone’s individual mental state like they would a physical injury. It’s easier to look at someone using a crutch or with a cast and ask about what happened to cause the injury but seeing a teenager/young adult crying is often perceived as that person being weak or “hormonal.” It’s interesting because anyone who coaches youth sports is required to take concussion training, but nothing about mental health. This is a missed opportunity because some athletes could be struggling due to mental health issues, but the coaches don’t see it and aren’t aware of the signs.
While that week in August last year was one of the most difficult times our family has faced, we learned so much. A year later, our son is doing well. After the incident, he met weekly with his therapist, whom he respects and is very thankful for, for the rest of the school year and into the summer. Thanks to the help he received and the support of so many people, he got to experience much of his senior year just like any other kid. He attended prom, played sports, went to grad parties, and graduated with honors. Now, he is a freshman in college, majoring in Psychology, because his hope is to become a hospital social worker supporting teens, just like Stephen supported him.
A thankful mom