Why Pediatric Mental Health Matters: Chloe’s Journey to Recovery

April 25, 2019

Children's Hospital Colorado is determined to help families across the region have access to the right mental health care at the right time. Read Chloe's story, in her own words, to find out why.

Today is a good day for Chloe. She feels calm and hopeful. Her light green eyes smile as she talks about her plans for college. She’s currently a senior in high school.

“I want to study psychology, so I can make a difference for other kids,” she says. When she says it, she lights up. So does her mom, Tracy.

It’s been a long journey to this point. Chloe has struggled with debilitating depression and anxiety for most of her life.

Chloe says therapy doesn’t work immediately, like a pill does for a headache. “You have to keep trying and keep doing it, until it does work,” Chloe said. “It’s never a quick fix with mental health problems.”

Early struggles

From her earliest memory, Chloe remembers feeling anxious. At age 4, she became so overcome with anxiety during a dance recital that she sat down on the stage and cried. In middle school, her heart would race and palms sweat when anyone paid attention to her in class.

Then, in seventh grade, her older brother, Ethan, who had Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Bipolar disorder, died by suicide. Only one year apart in age, Chloe and Ethan had always lived life as a pair.

“He meant everything to me,” Chloe said.

Prior to his death, their family had struggled for years to find Ethan the right treatment. Without him, Chloe descended into a downward spiral of depression.

“I couldn’t’ turn it off,” she said. 

Rock bottom

One year after Ethan’s passing, Chloe could no longer bear the grief and attempted suicide. She was admitted to an inpatient program at the Pediatric Mental Health Institute at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

Every day, Chloe met with pediatric mental health experts to work through her anxiety and grief. She practiced observing her feelings and urges, rather than becoming consumed by them. After one week, she went home. But, as she soon learned, the road to recovery is not always smooth.

The following year, at age 13, Chloe developed anorexia. She became so unhealthy, she once again needed urgent help, but this time, a bed wasn’t available at the Pediatric Mental Health Institute.

“There are so many kids who are struggling, and everybody wants to come to Children’s Colorado for care,” Tracy said. “We need to support the hospital so they can treat more kids.”

Finding help

For two years, Chloe tried other treatment programs around Denver. She experienced first-hand that most providers aren’t experienced in treating complex mental health needs in children and young adults. In fact, Children’s Colorado is the only provider in the state that can treat the full spectrum of pediatric mental illnesses.

Just when Chloe became convinced she would never recover, a bed opened up at the Pediatric Mental Health Institute. In fall 2018, she entered the Partial Hospitalization Program at Children’s Colorado.

The Partial Hospitalization Program is different from the inpatient unit at Children’s Colorado. Patients go to group and one-on-one therapy with pediatric psychologists throughout the day and then return home at night to be with family and maintain some routine.

There is structure and time to work on concrete skills but also time to decompress. Chloe believes Children’s Colorado provides the best care in the state for pediatric mental illness.

“They are so patient and kind, and they really invested in my improvement,” she said.

Parents are heavily involved so healing can continue outside the hospital. Every day, Chloe’s parents joined the end of the treatment sessions. They concluded each day by talking about what they did right in therapy, what they could improve and their goal for that night.

The program also offers classes just for parents on how to support their children.

“There are a lot of resources out there for parents who have children with physical illnesses; this is the first time we have had resources for mental illnesses also,” Tracy said, the relief shining in her voice.

Chloe completed the program in three weeks and has been going to outpatient therapy weekly ever since.

Long-term recovery

Six months out of the program, things feel more manageable. Chloe sees mental health as a journey, with highs and lows, new discoveries and challenges, plateaus and milestones. It can feel endless, but for the first time, Chloe can look back and see how far she has come.

She thinks about how she went through childhood in distress, she thinks about reaching her rock bottom in eighth grade, and she thinks of Ethan.

“I’m lucky I got the care I needed,” Chloe said. “I’m able to put in work for a better life. But there are so many kids like Ethan out there, and that’s why kids’ mental health matters.”