Determination and support help Lia overcome challenges

In high school, 17-year-old Lia suffered from an eating disorder. His anorexia led to body image issues, suicidal thoughts and self-harming behaviors. She was in a residential facility receiving treatment for her anorexia, but when a nurse discovered Lia was cutting herself, she was sent to a hospital emergency department (ED).

Lia’s mother, Angela, didn’t know she was cutting herself. They were shocked when they learned their daughter was in the emergency room awaiting mental health treatment. For two weeks, Lia waited in the emergency room for a mental health bed to open, a concept known as a “boarding school.” Her mother called different establishments daily, begging them to take her daughter.

“The wait has been brutal,” Angela said. “To see my daughter waiting and waiting in the emergency department was horrible. This is not where she should have been. She was not receiving any treatment; she was just waiting. It was not a healing environment for her.

On day 14 of Lia’s ER pick-up, the hospital social worker told Angela about the youth village program, Intercept for Emergency Diversion. The program launched in Massachusetts in March 2021 and aims to address the crisis in pediatric ER residency.

Every day in Massachusetts, more than 200 children are admitted to emergency departments and await mental health treatment. The social worker explained that through this program, Lia was able to be discharged from the hospital and receive intensive mental health treatment at home, eliminating the costly and unnecessary need to wait for an open bed in a mental health facility.

Less than 24 hours after Angela was told about the program, Lia was released and on her way home. Her youth village specialist followed Lia and Angela home from hospital, and treatment began immediately.

As soon as they arrived, Lia’s specialist went over the security planning, going through the whole house with Angela and going over what needed to be locked up and what could be safely kept out of the way. She even provided locked boxes for Angela to keep things like medicine, knives and razors in a safe place.

When she arrived home, Lia had very few privileges. She couldn’t stay home alone safely; she was not allowed to drive; and she was constantly watched by her parents. Angela quit her job so she could be there for Lia full time. Lia knew that these restrictions weren’t forever, and she was determined to improve.

Lia and her specialist worked on identifying coping skills that would help her when she was having negative thoughts. She worked on positive thinking and self-image, journaling, restoring her parents’ trust, and a meal schedule. They did a lot of psychoeducation around healthy eating habits and making sure Lia ate properly.

Lia missed the first three months of school due to her hospitalizations and worried that she might not graduate on time. When she returned to school at the end of November, she only attended two hours a day. She didn’t return to school full time until January.

Lia was determined to overcome her eating disorder and worked hard for it education and mental health. Not only did she graduate on time, but she got the best. She even got to attend her prom! Lia has received scholarships to three prestigious colleges and is excited to attend Assumption College next semester.

After five months of working with her specialist Intercept, Lia is booming. She is gaining more privileges every day. Recently she was able to stay overnight with friends safely, she is trusted to drive and stay home alone and she will be moving on her own to live near her college. Lia also stopped her self-harming behaviors and experienced a significant decrease in suicidal ideation. She is constantly busy and is so excited for the future.

“There are so many reasons why an emergency room is not a place for children with mental illness,” Angela said. “We can do so much more for the kids who are just waiting there. I’m so glad we found youth villages. They are the reason my daughter was able to come home and recover. Everyone should know about this program.

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