Sharon: Finding Help for Her Daughter

Since Sharon provides education and coordination of mental health services in a public health department, she is knowledgeable about available resources and how health systems function. However, she finds she must balance supporting her daughter’s autonomy with helping her daughter navigate the system.

I’ve taken lots of people to the hospital over the years. I told the triage nurse this is a mental health crisis so we don’t get stuck in the waiting room. When we went in to the mental health emergency department, we had a really wonderful social worker who had lived experience herself. . . I remember she came in the room, a little interview room, and sat on the floor even though there was a chair for her and talked to Gabrielle. She said, “Sometimes people need tune ups; you’ve been taking a SSRI and sometimes you need a tune up.” She really spoke to her in a way that Gabrielle could understand. I didn’t have to talk Gabrielle into being admitted. . . She wanted to be there. Unfortunately, she had to stay downstairs in the mental health emergency unit for 24 hours, which is awful.

During her one-week hospitalization, Gabrielle received excellent care at the hospital.

I remember this one nurse who came in at night time. She sat on Gabrielle’s bed and she was just really straightforward about it and talked about the benefits of treatment and what’s realistic, including the negative side effects. We both really appreciated that. She was straight about it but kind. It felt really respectful. Gabrielle had all the information she needed to make a decision on whether that was going to be good for her.

Back at home, Gabrielle’s scary behavior forced Sharon to call the police.

She was threatening to self-injure. It was in the middle of the night and she came in our room and turned on the light. I can’t remember what she said. I actually have PTSD from that experience because it’s like what is going on? I called the police and I know the police, all of them, because I’ve worked with them all forever. In fact, I’ve taught most law enforcement in the county about the first aid class for law enforcement. I have four cops in my kitchen and two police cars in my front yard. It’s like Oh my God. Really? And you know what? They were great. Maybe because they knew me, but they were really, really respectful.

Gabrielle’s second hospitalization was brief and focused on medication readjustment. Back at home and in therapy, Gabrielle was diagnosed with an eating disorder. Sharon explained how Gabrielle’s eating disorder developed when a popular boy she had dated told her she was fat and she quickly lost 20 pounds, which Sharon initially attributed to a growth spurt. After spending one week at a facility for eating disorders, Gabrielle continues to be seen on an outpatient basis for ongoing support.

Sharon described a few negative experiences with mental health staff. One time when she brought Gabrielle to the hospital for an assessment, the triage nurse did not look at Gabrielle during the assessment.

If Gabrielle is comfortable, I don’t speak on her behalf and belittle her. Well, this nurse never once looked at Gabrielle. Birth date? Do you have your ID card? She didn’t even look up. . . I’m very quiet. I’m not passive aggressive though. I’m assertive. At the end when we got done and the nurse said just go have a seat, I said to the nurse, “It would have helped if you would have looked at her once during the interview.” I think she was really offended. I didn’t say it like threatening. I just meant it as I’m her mom and that would have really helped if you would have looked up at her.

Sharon coaches Gabrielle on what is most relevant to tell the triage staff in the emergency department and asks her daughter's permission to share information. She shares her observations about any symptoms with Gabrielle and suggests she may need her medications evaluated, but leaves the decison to ask for an evaluation to Gabrielle.

More of the Story: Building Support