Sophie’s mental health struggles came to light in July 2020 – an extremely difficult year for many. In response, Sophie’s parents, Tucker and Kim, sought out help for her from a therapist. Soon after, the therapist determined that Sophie’s mental health challenges were severe – she was dealing with anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.
A pivotal time in Sophie’s mental health journey was her stay at the Cherese Mari Laulhere Mental Health Inpatient Center at CHOC.
“At CHOC, we were able to gain a fuller understanding of what Sophie had gone through, what she was feeling and what she needed from us,” says Tucker.
Sophie’s time at CHOC was sandwiched between other stays at various inpatient mental health centers and residential programs that offered long-term care. Unfortunately, most other centers weren’t equipped to get Sophie the help she needed.
Tucker and Kim suspected that Sophie developed an eating disorder, in addition to having anxiety and depression. Most mental health programs could address anxiety and depression or an eating disorder, but not both.
Well-rounded mental health care at CHOC
The mental health inpatient center at CHOC is exclusively dedicated to the treatment of children ages 3 to 17 years with mental illness who are at immediate risk of hurting themselves or others. It is the only inpatient facility in Orange County that can treat patients younger than 12. CHOC’s doctors and care teams are specially trained to stabilize children and transition them to outpatient care.
When she first arrived at CHOC, Sophie remembered feeling uncomfortable at first — which was typical when she arrived at any new mental health center — but the staff was patient and encouraging.
CHOC psychologist Dr. Francesca Bahn and psychiatrist Dr. Lavanya Wusirika (Dr. Lava) began working with Sophie to help stabilize her, and they were able to confirm that Sophie did have an eating disorder. For Sophie, anxiety, depression and her eating habits were all linked. Because Sophie was feeling bad, she would refuse to eat.
NG-tubes and a battle of wills
To get Sophie the support she needed for her mental health challenges and eating disorder, Drs. Bahn and Lava collaborated with child life specialists, nurses and mental health assistants, as well as psychologists, dietitians and adolescent medicine providers from CHOC’s eating disorders program.
“Sophie is an incredibly smart and strong-willed child, which is wonderful and can also be tough,” says Tucker. “Getting Sophie to eat was like a battle of the wills.”
Mental Health Resources
for Orange County, CA
Download and print this card with a list of phone numbers to keep on hand in case of a mental health emergency.
Sophie ate through a combination of food by mouth and nasogastric tubes (NG tubes). Over time, Sophie made progress on her eating habits and across various aspects of her mental health needs. Sophie, Tucker and Kim also attended family therapy sessions together — under the guidance of Dr. Kristen Yule, pediatric psychologist — which made a significant impact on Sophie’s journey to healing.
Remembering her time at the CHOC mental health inpatient center, Sophie says, “Honestly, when I was at CHOC, my mental health was still pretty rough. But there were moments that I felt really cared for [by the staff] and I had support behind me.”
Moving forward while paying it forward
Sophie was discharged from CHOC and continued treatment at other long-term mental health centers. In November 2021, Sophie returned home and to school in person.
Now, she’s a high school freshman.
Sophie plays lacrosse and loves dogs. She volunteers with multiple animal-focused organizations, one of which offers equine therapy for kids with disabilities. While a child is riding, she will walk alongside them to ensure their safety.
Sophie aims to give back to the community just like people did for her.
“When I was receiving treatment, I tried to push everyone away. I thought that they were wasting their effort on me,” says Sophie. “But there were people who wouldn’t give up on me. So, I want to use my time to give back and help others.”
Beyond her volunteer work, Sophie has started an online support group where other teens can discuss what they’re struggling with. There, she listens to comments from others and draws on her experience to empathize with them, validate their feelings and be a listening ear. She’s sure to offer others encouragement and is not afraid to intervene if their safety is at risk.
“There’s a difference between sympathy and empathy,” says Sophie. “Sympathy is listening to what someone is going through and then saying, ‘Oh, that sucks.’ Empathy is hearing and validating someone to let them know that they are heard, not alone, and reminds them that they are still here. They are here and they can make healthy, positive choices.”
Just like she encourages others to do, Sophie is still here — and she’s making healthy, positive choices.
At CHOC, we specialize in providing a full continuum of pediatric mental healthcare, including inpatient, intensive outpatient and outpatient program services.