Celebrities Don’t Visit Kids in the Psych Unit

A while back, my friend, Toni, shared her thoughts about the contrast between the treatment of children with mental illness and those with physical illness. When I read her words, I wept. I was reminded of our time with a child in the inpatient psychiatric unit of a children’s hospital. I count that experience as one of the lowest in my mothering life. Toni originally posted this on Facebook and gave me permission to publish it here.

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From Toni:

Today, I have been struck by how disparities affect children. I realize the disparities I see are so small compared to those experienced by many people groups in the world. Yet, I am still heartbroken.

I was driving to a meeting, and a woman on the radio was describing her child’s experience at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

Her child came out of surgery, received her favorite foods, and was greeted by a beanie baby wearing a cast matching the exact cast of the radio announcer’s little girl. I can only imagine how cared for this little girl felt. It truly is the experience I would wish for every child.

Yet, when one of my own children was at the same hospital, on a very different floor, in need of mental health care, the hospital didn’t change my child’s clothes for four days. Even though the floor was a locked wing, the hospital managed to lose the only prized stuff animal my child brought.

I remember leaving one day and yet again, seeing Seahawks players coming to visit, and feeling oh, so very grieved, that our visit was one of silent pain, while other children were greeted with gifts of electronics and celebrities.

Likewise, our family has somehow managed to land in a school district that shows up in a prestigious magazine every year for its ability to get kids into notable colleges. People clamor to get their kids into our district. I’ve known families to produce false addresses just so they can eek their kids in—the AP classes, the sports, the prestige, oh my!

Yet, when a child has complex trauma, mental health needs, and isn’t equipped to enroll in those AP classes, the district puts off meetings and forces children to sit out of school for days until staff is available. Teachers aren’t trained to deal with anxiety disorders, and kids suffer as a result.

The same district doesn’t always classify the use of the “n” word as racist.

I want a kid with a broken arm to receive all the love care and attention she deserves. I want kids who are headed for the Ivy Leagues to be supported.

I also want kids who need specialized attention to be just as championed, just as valued, and for their advocates to be viewed as partners, not the enemy.

Toni Esparza

 

Toni is married to the wittiest and most handsome man in the world who still takes her breath away almost 20 years after the day they met. Together they have been gifted 7 cherubs that have taught them more than any degree or job ever could. Toni is passionate about magnifying the voices of those the world has quieted and firmly believes no one should ever fight a battle alone. As a humble follower of Emmanuel, God with us, she hopes to link together with the weary arms of others


Friends, if this speaks to you, please share your thoughts. Reading it stirs my heart and may even prompt me to revisit our painful experience enough to write about it.

There is so much shame surrounding mental illness, and yet many families are struggling to meet the needs of their children. These families need our love and support – we need each other.

Leave a comment here, or on my Thankful Moms Facebook page. I would love to hear from you.

Lisa

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

17 Comments

  1. Bethany Adams
    October 19, 2016

    I am currently the parent of an adopted child with mental health concerns. He hasn’t been hospitalized yet but somehow I know that day will come. I am also the parent of a medically complex child through foster care. I have been so struck by the difference in supports for my children. There is so much support for how to help my medically fragile child while we are desperate for help and direction for our child who is mentally fragile. There are so many programs for kids with medical issues while we have to search for programs to help address our son’s mental health needs. I wish this would change. Reading your words helps me realize that I am not alone which in some way does help.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 19, 2016

      You are not alone, Bethany. I appreciate you validating Toni’s words and the experience of so many parents. Thank you.

      Reply
  2. TieceyKaye
    October 19, 2016

    Tears. I don’t know what else to say. Shame, fear, guilt. I was not hospitalized with my mental illness when I was young, but I was hidden away at home because no one knew how to deal with mental illness or what to say. It’s been 30 years of learning that being sick isn’t a lack of will on my part. It’s just illness. I take meds and function fine now. I’m trying to be more vocal about it, but it still feels so shameful.

    My child deals with PTSD from living in hell before adoption. I still hear from teachers: “Well, if he just tried harder…” What? If he just tried harder, he could change the shape of his brain?!? That’s not how this works.

    Let’s continue to speak up for awareness and compassion. Let’s quit ignoring kids whose illnesses are not visible. Don’t kids on the psych ward like football too?

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 19, 2016

      Powerful words, TieceyKaye. Thank you so much for sharing them.

      Reply
  3. Mary (Owlhaven)
    October 19, 2016

    Thanks for sharing Toni’s words…
    Mary

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 19, 2016

      Thanks for reading and sharing, Mary.

      Reply
  4. Maria
    October 19, 2016

    Hi sweet friends,
    I totally hear what you are saying and it grieves my heart. I do have to say though that as a mom whose son has met Russell Wilson, this post does sting a bit. I am also a mom who has a daughter with mental health issues, several children who have had 12+ surgeries and too many medical procedures to count. My son who is fighting cancer and is fighting for his life is the only one who has ever met Wilson. My other children who have had at least 12+ surgeries at Children’s have never, nor have they received a favorite toy, or anything like that. Russell Wilson did spend about 30 minutes with my son, which was a gift, but was really a small drop in comparison with the months Jax has stayed in the hospital. I also know many other kids in the cancer floor who have never met Wilson. It was a total gift but will also never take away all of what he has had to endure, he’s fought cancer four times in his life. I hope you hear my heart. We’ve had a lot of community support but I have to be honest in saying that there’s been very few people who have consistentently shown up, the journey is at times very lonely and isolating. Very few people visit, very few people consistently show up. Services are difficult to find for all my jewels with special needs and I find that I’m constantly educating and advocating on all fronts, we’ve got at least 12 different special needs within our family. I could go on but I won’t. I love you both. I hope you hear my heart in that things are not always as they seem. Maria

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 19, 2016

      Maria, sweet friend, I hear your heart. I wouldn’t want your son to have missed a moment of his special time with Russell Wilson – I think it’s wonderful that he visits kids at Seattle Children’s. I love that other Seahawks players visit as well. Just today a friend shared a video of Russell Wilson visiting another mutual friend and her new baby in the NICU. Russell Wilson posted a 20 minute video on FB showing his visits with lots of families – my boys were glued to the computer watching! My friend is at Seattle Children’s from Montana with her baby and I know the visit must have been a bright light in their day. You are in the midst of something so very hard, Maria, harder than most of us will ever endure, and I wouldn’t want to take that visit from your sweet boy and give it to another child. I just want all children to be cherished and special, and I know you feel the same. Much love and many prayers for your family.

      Reply
  5. Maria
    October 19, 2016

    PS I wanted to add too that Wilson specifically goes to the cancer floor because his dad died of cancer!

    Reply
  6. Elizabeth
    October 19, 2016

    This is dead on. I’ve been to the ER with very medically sick children and the ER with a child suffering inside the prison of developmental trauma. Private room, concern, care for the child running the 105 degree fever. A gurney in the hall, complete with guard standing nearby (for a NINE year old) for the traumatized child. Then, an emergency evac. downtown to the children’s hospital for the first, while we faced a vaguely scary and shameful feeling meeting with a social worker and an immediate discharge with the second.

    I have several children with significant physical conditions. I have a son with significant trauma issues. There is so much more outpouring of support and appreciation for parenting a child with a visible condition than an invisible one. We are wonderful and amazing for the first and opinion veers between parenting that is too lax and too controlling for the second. Everyone knows that our parenting was not the cause of our children’s physical conditions, but very few people can wrap their heads around the fact that our parenting was also not the cause of our son’s emotional one.

    Well written article.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 19, 2016

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience and your wisdom, Elizabeth.

      Reply
  7. Emily
    October 19, 2016

    The disparity you describe so poignantly here is heart-wrenching. Thank you for sharing these words.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 20, 2016

      Thanks for commenting, Emily.

      Reply
  8. Lizzie
    October 19, 2016

    I worked at a prestigious pediatric hospital – a very famous one. We had very frequent celebrity visitations; some were clearly there for the PR while others were big supporters of the hospital – in fact, some who lived in the city were ‘on call’ if the ward had children who needed some extra support or a bit of joy. I appreciated all they did.
    In most cases, a visit to the inpatient psychiatric clinic wouldn’t have been appropriate, because the children there were emotionally and mentally vulnerable in a way that meant only trusted and experienced adults were appropriate visitors to the secure unit.
    But I heartily agree with the core of what you’re both saying – we were a tertiary referral centre so neglect from health care professionals was less of an issue, but the psychiatric service was basically invisible. There was no cheerfully silly public fundraising, no moving viral videos, no celebrities dropping by the less secure areas of the ward. The children who survived cancer were cast as heroic and brave – and I don’t want to denigrate that – but the children on the psychiatric service were utterly deleted from any narrative, and given very little support back in their own communities.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 20, 2016

      I appreciate your perspective as a professional working in a pediatric hospital. In one of our Facebook discussions, another reader also brought up the challenge of celebrities visiting children on the inpatient psychiatric unit due to privacy and safety issues. Visits would certainly have to be navigated with care and wouldn’t be appropriate for all patients. But, as you say, it really is the heart of the matter that we want to bring to light and you state that so beautifully. Thank you, Lizzie.

      Reply
  9. Shelly
    October 20, 2016

    I have been thinking about the comparison between parenting kiddos with physical special needs and mental health needs a lot lately. I have been reading the book “The Road Less Traveled” written by a physical special needs adoptive mom. It is fascinating to see how much alike the struggles are. I confess that I have envied the physical needs from time to time. Her book has showed me how raw that journey is. I feel the mental health journey so so very hard and so very lonely. Thank you to Lisa and all those who talk about these things and connect all of us mamas in the trenches. We might not get NFL stars, but we do get a network of warrior moms who are some of the most capable women on the planet!!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      October 21, 2016

      I love this, Shelly, “We might not get NFL stars, but we do get a network of warrior moms who are some of the most capable women on the planet!!”

      I have met the most determined, amazing women through our struggles – truly, some of my best friends. There are many gifts to be found along the way.

      Reply

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