Mental Health

All Articles in the Category ‘Mental Health’

Annie Faces Her Fears and Conquers Her Anxiety

Julie Munko tried to manage her daughter Annie’s anxiety on her own until she found a therapeutic program at Seattle Children’s that dramatically improved their lives.

Imagine if you had a child who cried themselves to sleep at night because they had no friends; who called themselves “horrible” and drew disparaging images of themselves in their journal; who suffered physical pain when they wore clothes or gave you a hug.

This was once the reality for Julie Munko and her daughter Annie, who suffered from an anxiety disorder. But today, their lives are completely different, thanks to skill-based therapy at Seattle Children’s that pushed Annie outside of her comfort zone.

Crawling out of her skin

Munko first noticed Annie’s anxious behavior in fourth grade. Annie desperately avoided the school library and cried at night if she had to go there the following day. She no longer wanted to sleep over with friends or go to parties.

By fifth grade, it began affecting her school life. Annie became distressed if she unexpectedly had a substitute teacher. She ran out of the classroom if her computer was not working properly. Annie was an excellent student but panicked if her teacher’s instructions were unclear or if she was having trouble with an assignment.

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April Discovers Power in Her Voice Through Selective Mutism Program

April Merrill is a 6-year-old who loves to sing and dance. Yet, her struggle with an anxiety disorder called selective mutism hinders her ability to do the activities that showcase her vibrant and joyful personality.

“Her voice disappears, as April describes it,” said Kelly Merrill, April’s mother. “She said that she wants to talk but can’t seem to find her voice.”

As April was growing up, Merrill noticed signs in her daughter that indicated something might be wrong.

“When April started to talk, she could only verbalize 20 or so words,” said Merrill. “She was 2 years old at the time and I noticed she couldn’t expand her vocabulary.”

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A Teen Transforms Her Pain Into Soulful Melodies


Emily Talbot, 17, shares her story about her lifelong battle with a rare brain disease and how she has overcome the physical and mental health challenges caused by the condition through writing and performing music.

Although I look like any other 17-year-old, people don’t know that I live in pain 24 hours a day.

Since the age of 7, I have had 14 brain surgeries, 12 back surgeries and 6 stomach surgeries. I can’t begin to count how many spinal taps I’ve had.

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Seattle Children’s Reaches Beyond Its Walls to Improve Mental Health Care for Kids in the Community and Across the Region

There is a tremendous need for improved access to mental health care and resources for children and teens nationwide.

At Seattle Children’s, its commitment to helping address this need spans not only within the Seattle community, but throughout the region.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 1 in 5 children have a mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder, such as anxiety or depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, disruptive behavior disorder, and Tourette syndrome.

While early intervention is key in managing mental health issues, only about 20% of children with disorders receive care from a specialized mental health care provider.

That’s why Seattle Children’s is continuously working to enhance access to mental health services, promote education and research, and advocate for families affected by mental illness.

The following describes three of the many innovative programs and initiatives that Seattle Children’s offers to help improve mental health care for all children.

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An Interdisciplinary Team Model in Diagnosing Autism Helps Brendan Find His Voice

Brendan Bittinger, 9, was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder using a team evaluation model developed at the Seattle Children’s Autism Center.

Some say ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’ At Seattle Children’s Autism Center, this concept came to life to a certain degree through the development of a collaborative method for diagnosing autism in children that aimed to improve the diagnostic process and increase efficiency, with the potential of leading to better patient outcomes.

Linda Bittinger’s 9-year-old son Brendan found his ‘village’ at the Autism Center in June 2017 when a team made up of providers from different disciplines came together for a thoughtful diagnostic evaluation that would shape his treatment path to progress.

“When we received his diagnosis, I felt a sense of optimism,” said Bittinger. “I had less worries knowing there were opportunities for treatment. And since then, he’s made tremendous strides.”

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Shedding Light on Mental Health Stigma and the Truth About Treatment

John Madden, now 22 years old, has referred to his stay as a teenager in the Seattle Children’s Psychiatric and Behavioral Medicine Unit as the 10 most important days of his life.

When John Madden was 16 years old, the growing stress from his demanding academic schedule became a catalyst for larger issues.

Madden had withdrawn from friends and family. His misuse of prescription medication and use of illicit drugs to cope with the stress further aggravated undiagnosed mental conditions. Bouts of depression and mania sometimes left him sleepless for days with little control over his thoughts and actions.

Madden recognized he needed help, but he was not relieved when he was admitted to the Seattle Children’s Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine Unit (PBMU).

“I had this Hollywood view of treatment and thought it was going to jump from talking to being restraint-oriented, locked in a room and treated sub-human,” Madden said. “I wanted to avoid that stigma about what goes on in mental health hospitals.”

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Examining Eating Disorders Through the Lens of “To the Bone”

As an adolescent medicine specialist, I help teens manage a wide range of eating habits, many of which can negatively impact their overall health and development. For example, I often hear teens say they’re skipping breakfast or trying to diet. Some have very rigid rules around food that alarmingly result in their bodies showing signs of starvation. Although these symptoms can rarely point to a severe eating disorder like anorexia and bulimia nervosa, when these disorders do take hold they can be life altering.

I recently watched a film on Netflix called “To the Bone,” which illustrated an example of one person’s struggle to recover from anorexia. Despite its dramatic portrayal for cinematic purposes, I was impressed with the truthful depiction of the emotional experiences the main character faced with her eating disorder.

Eating disorders affect about 0.5% of the population, but symptoms often start during the teen years. Complications of eating disorders can be severe and include shifts in electrolytes (like potassium, chloride and glucose), diminished hormone levels (estrogen and testosterone), decreased bone strength, poor concentration, and death.

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Crooks Family Turns Tragedy Into Change With Washington State’s First Mental Health Summit

Chad’s Legacy Project has been a driving force behind the first-ever Washington State Mental Health Summit. Laura Crooks (right) and her husband, Todd Crooks, started CLP in honor of their son, Chad Crooks (left), who died tragically months after he was diagnosed with Schizophrenia.

Laura and Todd Crooks have experienced personal devastation from losing a loved one whose mental health issues weren’t properly addressed. Their son Chad took his own life eight months after he was diagnosed with Schizophrenia, on Jan. 21, 2016.

The professional help the gifted 21-year-old college student required wasn’t readily available when he needed it most.

The Crooks have since openly shared their family story in an effort to help others. They also started Chad’s Legacy Project (CLP), an endeavor in memoriam, to advance mental health education and innovations in the evaluation and treatment of mental illness.

CLP is realizing its mission, serving as the driving force behind the first-ever Washington State Mental Health Summit, which will take place on Thursday, Oct. 5. A portion of the more than $100,000 CLP has raised is covering the costs of the Summit.

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Treatment Helps Kids and Teens Control Anxiety

Anxiety is a natural response that alerts people to situations that they find threatening. Anxious feelings are a part of life for kids, teens and adults, but when anxiety is severe, frequent and lasts for months, it requires professional treatment. Dr. Kendra Read, attending psychologist on Seattle Children’s Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine team, works with kids and teens with anxiety disorders, helping them identify their anxiety triggers and learn how to control their worries and fears.

“Research shows that once anxiety becomes problematic, most kids do not just grow out of it,” said Read. “In fact, left untreated, anxiety can result in problematic long-term consequences that impact academic achievement, employment, substance use, and development of additional psychological disorders, such as depression.” Read full post »

Three Cheers for the Team That Helped Wesslee Overcome Pain

Through Seattle Children’s Pediatric Pain Rehabilitation Program (PReP), physical therapist Sharon Yurs challenges Wesslee Holt to a game of hoops, with some extra balance work added in.

Last spring, Wesslee Holt rolled his ankle at his middle school in Shelton, Washington. The 12-year-old is a dedicated member of his cheer team and was eager to return to the squad quickly. He followed his doctor’s instructions to immobilize the foot and wear a boot — but his pain only increased over time.

Wesslee started using a scooter to keep weight off his foot and rested it as much as possible. Nothing seemed to work. His skin became splotchy and red, and was so sensitive to touch that he couldn’t put a sock or shoe on. He felt depressed and anxious, pulled out of cheer team completely and even left school.

His mother, Steph Fyfe, knew it was time for a different approach. “People wanted to put Wesslee on supplemental security income and call him disabled, but I knew there had to be a way for him to get better,” she said.

She was referred to Seattle Children’s Pain Medicine Clinic and learned Wesslee was suffering from complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), which sometimes accompanies a routine injury and causes the nerves to send extreme pain messages to the brain. The good news is that Seattle Children’s was able to offer Wesslee a unique treatment option: the Pediatric Pain Rehabilitation Program (PReP).

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