A local teen hopes sharing her mental health struggle can help others ask for help

SPOKANE, Wash.– Kids are struggling because of the pandemic. It’s not just in academics, it’s also their mental health.

It happened to 15-year-old Shylar Thompson. She said she was already dealing with a lot at home and COVID-19 made it worse.

“I was just hitting rock bottom and I really needed some help,” Thompson said.

Thompson said she’s had depression for years. She said she noticed it was rock bottom when she didn’t want to get out of bed or eat anymore. At just 15, she’s already been through a lifetime of hurt.

“I’ve gone through a lot of things in my life. Both my parents are addicted to drugs and I’ve always lived with my grandma. I was going through a really hard breakup,” Thompson said.

Add on the pandemic and things got to be too much for her. She said going to class was her escape, but at that point, classes were virtual.

“We couldn’t see our friends, we couldn’t go to our school and it was just such a big difference. We were all losing ourselves.”

In January, Thompson said she tried to take her own life. The next day, she went to the emergency room.

“I realized I needed help when I just started to have some really scary thoughts of not wanting to be here anymore,” she said.

Thompson ended up going to Inland Northwest Behavioral Health for help. However, she felt like she needed more.  She eventually found Providence’s RISE Program, which stands for Resources, Insight, Support and Empowerment. It’s an intensive outpatient behavioral health program for teenagers and adults.

Kristin Reiter, the program manager for the RISE program, said it’s an alternative treatment to hospitalization. People can still go about their daily lives but will have appointments to come in and talk with therapists several times a week.

“What we saw a lot of during COVID was just a surge both in our adolescents and adults, which is where the waitlist got pretty high up there,” Reiter said.

Providence spokesperson Ariana Lake said they saw as many as 100 teens on the waitlist in early 2021. On the adult side, there were more than 70 on that waitlist.

“It’s heartbreaking to see young people who aren’t filled with hope,” said Erik Loraas, a child psychiatrist with RISE.

Kids need structure, and when that was taken away from them, a lot of them struggled, Loraas said. It’s not only just about school that they’re stressing about. They’re thinking about the future, too.

“There’s really this pervasive sense of hopelessness and uncertainty of what the future holds, particularly for young people, Loraas said. They’re not sure what the world is going to be when they inherit it and they feel, in some ways, really powerless.”

Thompson said she went to the RISE Program for several weeks.

When she got there and heard what other teenagers are going through, she said it was hard for her to accept at first.

“I’ve always thought I was being judged, or they’re lying. Because it’s like, everything I feel I’ve never seen anybody feel that way before. It was very surprising for me,” she said.

Having to make that decision to ask for help wasn’t easy, Thompson said.

“It was really hard because I knew I was going to upset my family a lot because I was embarrassed,” Thompson said.

Behavioral health specialists said that shouldn’t be the case. While there is still a stigma around it, both Loraas and Reiter said it’s best to ask for help early on.

“If you let a condition progressively get worse, and not get help, the prognosis won’t be as great. So, we want to get people in before they’re in a huge crisis situation. That’s always a better outcome,” Reiter said.

It’s heartbreaking to parents, having to accept that their kids may need some help. Some may feel denial about that, and Loraas said denial won’t help your kids get the resources they need.

“I tell families that whether or not you admit that your child is struggling whether they’re depressed or they’re anxious, whether you give it a title or admit to it, it’s still happening,” Loraas.

Here are changes in behavior people should watch for:

  • Sleeping too much or not enough
  • If they have more or less of an appetite than usual
  • Disinterest in the things they used to like
  • Failing grades
  • Isolation

The best way to approach kids, or anyone who may be struggling, is to just talk to them.

“Just having these honest, open, supportive conversations and if you do feel like after these conversations that more is needed, then you suggest it and you offer yourself as a resource. Say hey, can I get you to help you get an appointment. can I help you get to the hospital? I’ll stay there with you.” Loraas said.

While reaching out for help can be scary, it can also be life-saving.

Earlier this year, Thompson couldn’t imagine loving life. In October, she was crowned East Valley High’s homecoming queen.

“I think it’s definitely worth it because now, I’m starting to really love my life again,” Thompson said.

After all that she’s been through, she has a new outlook on life and is excited for what’s down the road.

“I hope in the future, I’m able to help more people as much as I can,” Thompson said.

Thompson is already using her experience to help others. She said she saw a friend struggling like she did and got them the help they needed.

Providence said there are now openings for the RISE Program for the first time since it opened in 2018. People can self-refer if they need, or someone else can refer them to the program. For more information on the RISE Program, click here.

If you are struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide, you are not alone. There is help.

  • The National Suicide Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • The 24/7 regional crisis line: 1-877-266-1818
  • The Washington Listens Line: 1-833-681-0211
  • Providence’s Rise Program: 509-252-6446
  • You can also text ‘HEAL’ to 741741 for the crisis text line

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