There’s a story people tell about a frog dropped in a pot of water; if the water is boiling the frog will save itself by jumping right out of the pot, but if the frog is put into a pot of room-temperature water and then the water is slowly brought to the boiling point, the frog will stay in the water until it dies. The story is used as a metaphor for a situation in which a person doesn’t realize how bad something is getting until it’s too late.
That lesson is more than just a metaphor for Helen, a mother of a teenager in central Pennsylvania. She and her family know how insidious a mental health crisis can be… how it can go unrecognized until, in her words, “everything suddenly felt like it was slipping away.”
To recognize May as Mental Health Awareness Month we want to share Helen’s family’s story, in the hope other families can benefit from their experience.
Looking back, Helen says, she realized the issues with her 14-year-old daughter Sophie started months before the crisis, when the teenager experienced dramatic weight loss from May through the fall of 2018. As the holidays approached, Sophie began to show signs of depression, crying frequently and isolating herself in her room.
Helen tried to get her daughter help through their family doctor, but was told they could not help unless the child was under the care of a mental health professional. In seeking good mental healthcare, Helen found there was a six-week wait for an appointment with a child psychiatrist or even a therapist – and even when she made an appointment, it was cancelled at the last minute and the waiting period was delayed. Helen felt so frustrated in finding not just good care but any care for her teen who was rapidly spiraling out of control.
The crisis exploded one Friday night in January 2019, when Sophie told her parents she “had a plan to hurt” herself. Out of options, her parents took her to the local hospital emergency room. But in the midst of that desperation, a way out of the darkness emerged.
“The ER staff made some calls, and they said they found a bed for Sophie at a facility called KidsPeace, but it was over near Allentown (PA). As it turns out, my husband is from Allentown and knew about KidsPeace so we started to have hope that something could be done for Sophie,” she remembers. The teen was transported to KidsPeace Children’s Hospital for what turned out to be a five-day inpatient stay.
“It was the best thing for her, and for our family,” Helen says. Sophie received intensive therapy and counseling, focusing on identifying and developing coping skills for her depressive episodes, as well as medication management assistance. And she got the chance to be around other kids facing similar challenges, which helped her in knowing she was not alone in her struggle, as well as offering perspective on the challenges other teens face.
Sophie came home in late January, and her mother reports she’s doing “so much better. She’s starting to get back into things she was interested in before, like knitting and playing her music. She’s on medications that are helping, and while we know this crisis could happen again, now we know what to look for and that help is available.”
Helen used the frog analogy to describe how helpless her family felt before they found the help they needed. “It was scary, and I’m truly grateful to KidsPeace for all they did to put us on the right track.” But Sophie took another lesson from the story of the frog – the one who survived – by “jumping into” the phone conversation we had with her mother.
“Is that KidsPeace?” she called out. “Tell them I hope this doesn’t happen again, but if it does I’d go back to them right away, because I know I can get help there.”- Bob Martin
(NOTE: Names have been changed in accordance with KidsPeace’s privacy polices)