I am honored to have the opportunity to write about our experience because awareness is key. I hope your able to grasp the severity of the issue at hand regarding mental health for girls age 10 – 19. It is bittersweet to look back along our history through my daughter’s experience of growing up in a single parent household, as I feel that some of our hard times stemmed from me choosing to have her on my own. I felt her life force before she was even conceived and knew that it was the right thing to do to keep her, no matter how difficult. I wanted her early years to be filled with calm, nature, and community so moved closer to Hana where I was able to find work trade and thankfully lower rent.
She started going to preschool at age 3 1/2. She was confident and ready to start school, but she was forced to become right handed and was bullied and physically assaulted on the playground. I began homeschooling at Kindergarten, but she always missed interaction with friends and having group activities, so I put her back in. But every time she would have panic attacks a few times a week in class. She was bullied in school, not only by other students, but by teachers as well. She would come home every day crying because of being continually singled out in class for being a slow reader, and this was only 3rd grade. I homeschooled again and her reading level soared. I made a determination to read with her every day for an hour in a chapter book. Although I already did this with her before bed since birth she needed more, she needed encouragement, compliments, awareness of her progress no matter how small, and she needed someone to help her sound out words she didn’t know. That was a victory. I was so proud because she really struggled in school and had shown to herself that she could defy the status quo.
At age 10 my daughter finally got her own room, which was good in one way, but this is when she started to show signs of depression. I took her to her Primary Care Physician (PCP) who didn’t address her sadness other than encouraging her to join a team or sport and to make sure we were going to the beach. But that was the thing, everything that my daughter used to love like swimming all day, being active, being motivated to be around people her age; she had no desire to do or be a part of at all. It took a long time for her to finally get a referral to see a therapist so after months of trying to encourage to no avail we got a new PCP and upon the second hearing of her sadness she gave us a referral for a psychotherapist. Being completely new to therapy I had no idea what to expect and by this time she is a full-blown teenager at 13. I was pleasantly surprised when my daughter seemed to like how the sessions were going. However, after 8 months she became bored and felt she had out grown the treatment. Therapy had increased her level of depression. 🙁
Things came to a head when I started laying boundaries for the phone. I wanted the password and that’s when she blurted out in anger that I would see her suicide plans. I was shocked. As soon as she was calm enough to actually talk about it during dinner I brought the subject up. She dismissed my probing and said everything was fine. That night 2 hours after I was asleep my daughter took 16 Tylenol. She came to me after she had researched whether to call poison control. I called her PCP and the nurse said to take her to the ER.
The first 3 days in the ER was hard. She was given a temporary place to sleep and had to change rooms often. The Mental Health Behavioral section of Maui Memorial is small with no child section. We waited 7 days to get her a spot at Kahi Mohala on Oahu, the hardest 7 days we have ever had. I would visit about 3 times a day to bring whatever I could to make her more comfortable. It was with the nurses assigned to care for her that I had the most inspiring conversations about the lack of access on Maui for behavioral health. When I heard that the Maui Memorial adolescent mental health ward (known as the Molokini Ward) had closed 5 years ago because it wasn’t generating enough profit, I was so surprised and disappointed. Now families who are already going through such a hard time have to fly our kids to a different island to get treatment. The most gut wrenching part was putting her on that plane. I had so many fears for her but every time I called she seemed better. She was diagnosed finally and given medication for her anxiety, depression, and intrusive thoughts. She was able to come home 7 days later and has been doing well under the treatment of her new psychiatrist which has been such a blessing. Focus and elimination on causes of stress is now big for us. Eventually I was able to narrow down that one of her best friends turned on her and was harassing her online.
Teen suicide among girls 13-19 nationwide, has increased 200 percent in the last year. I have created a petition to reinstate Maui’s adolescent acute inpatient treatment facility to meet the needs of the kids on island. If you would like to sign the petition please go to www.ipetitions.com/petition/to-reinstate-mauis-teen-and-adolescent
Image Credit: Christa Briggs