A suburban Chicago mother is speaking out, sharing the story of her teenage daughter’s battle with depression, which nearly led to the loss of the teen's life, to help others, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Mental illness was something that was there before the pandemic happened," the teen's mom said. NBC 5 is not sharing the names of the mother or her daughter due to the sensitive nature of their story. "And I think there was kind of a perfect storm of things that occurred."
The teen graduated from high school in the summer of 2020 and went away to college out of state in the fall. Her mom said isolating at college proved detrimental.
“She told us that she had been struggling more in college than she had ever struggled before,” the mom said.
Seeking help at school, the teen was put on a new medication. Upon returning home for an extended winter break, she had a hard time getting in to see previous therapists.
“We had an appointment with a social worker I had gotten connected to through her primary care physician, through her pediatrician, who had actually said she would refill this prescription that we had run out of,” the mom said.
The day of the appointment, Jan. 8, 2021, her daughter said she was going out for coffee and then disappeared for nine hours. Eventually she called her frantic parents.
“I said, 'Did you take pills?' and she said yes. And I said, 'How many?' And she said 127. And so, I was just scared out of my mind,” the mom said, recalling the conversation.
The pills were prescribed to help, but taken all at once, the teen’s body ultimately rejected them.
“Her survival instinct to get her to throw up saved her,” her mom said.
As her daughter continues to recover, her mom is sharing what happened to help other parents.
“I couldn't believe how many parents told me that they were experiencing similar issues with mental health and their children,” the mom said.
It’s a problem Lurie Children’s Hospital has seen worsen as the pandemic drags on.
“The percent of our emergency department visits for mental health conditions has doubled since the onset of the pandemic,” said Dr. Jennifer Hoffmann, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Lurie Children’s Hospital.
Lurie’s emergency room is averaging about 100 mental health visits per month since March. That’s 100 children in crisis every month, and help is limited.
“We're having increased difficulty finding open psychiatric beds across the Chicagoland area since the beginning of the pandemic," Dr. Hoffmann said. "And on some days there are no available open psychiatric beds in the whole Chicagoland area."
Dr. Hoffmann believes the lack of beds is partly due to increased demand and also fewer beds due to social distancing.
We reached out to Amita Health, which has 19 locations in Illinois. A spokesperson told us: "Teen behavioral health issues have increased and we are busy. We may be full on any given day, but we have the ability to refer and transfer to other locations throughout Amita Health and elsewhere as appropriate. Additionally we are offering virtual programming to help with increased demand for mental health services during the pandemic.”
“This has been an issue that's building over time, so even before the pandemic there were limited resources available for children,” said Dr. Hoffmann.
The suburban mother who shared her daughter’s battle says writing original music has become an outlet for her daughter.
“She found a coping skill. It's not a panacea. It doesn't solve everything, but it helped her to express those emotions,” the mom said.
She is adamant though that more needs to be done to help these kids suffering during the pandemic and their desperate parents.
“It’s like a maze, you know, when you are just wandering in this maze, blind and alone and, and even though there's support out there, it's hard to figure out where it is and how to access it,” the mom said.
We have created a list of mental health resources that you can access here. Included is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. That phone number is 1-800-273-TALK.