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My perspective on child mental health in hospitals

Original post made by Isha Rao , Palo Alto High School, on Apr 4, 2018

My name is Isha Rao, and this school year I have been working with Get Involved Palo Alto, a nonprofit dedicated to helping teens discover their interests via service hours and internships. I spent 66 hours on my internship project centered around child mental health in hospitals.I want to become a physician someday and this helped me connect my interests. Many are familiar with the Giving Tree and other toy drives that commonly occur during the holiday season. Items obtained through these drives are given to needy children and those in hospitals. My goal for this project was to be able to bring awareness to the struggles that may be overlooked when it comes to children in hospitals.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) conducted a study that took place from April to June 2012. Children from ages 8-16 were studied after staying in hospitals for about a week and 63% of patients showed symptoms of moderate to severe depression or other mental illnesses (Web Link While researching the sheer breadth of mental illnesses in children, I was shocked. I would have never known about this issue without studying. This brought about the question; How many other people are aware of this issue? I am writing this article, in the hopes to bring more awareness to this significant, but unfortunately underrepresented issue.

I began my project by getting in touch with the Ronald McDonald House at Stanford. The Ronald McDonald House at Stanford is a hotel-style facility, that allows for patients and families to stay together, close to the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital while the patient is still undergoing treatment or needs supervision. Ronald McDonald house is a crucial component to both families and patients while undergoing long-term treatment. For those reasons, I chose to reach out to the Ronald McDonald House. Upon emailing and calling one of the staff, I was promptly given an opportunity to meet with one of the operations coordinators at the Ronald McDonald House. I was able to learn about the many resources offered at Ronald McDonald House, including meals and entertainment for patients, siblings, and family. While learning about the Ronald McDonald House, I was able to initiate a Halloween costume drive at the request of RMH staff. I gathered more than 800 dollars worth of costumes from my community) and the Comfort and Joy Drive. The Ronald McDonald House was an important starting point for the rest of my internship.

After developing the costume drive, I decided that I wanted to learn more about the hospital experience from both a patient and a provider’s point of view. I began getting in touch with patients, families of patients, and healthcare providers. From the data I gathered, I learned that patients did realize that hospitals were putting out their best effort and that providers were doing everything they could to make the experience more enjoyable for patients. Most patients said that the experience in the hospital in itself wasn’t horrible, but the feeling of being secluded from the rest of society left them feeling lonely and powerless. Control also seemed to be a significant factor in the dissatisfaction with the hospital experience. While staying in a hospital, a patient cannot leave their room when they please, meet others, pick what/when they will eat, or engage in activities that they would normally enjoy. This may be feasible for a short period of time, but as time passes it would be normal for the patient to begin to feel trapped or hopeless in their situation. This feeling seemed to be especially common in teenagers. While speaking with providers, it became clear that they were working extremely hard to help their patients.

In addition to healthcare providers, I was able to talk to one of the staff at the Stanford Spiritual Care Center, a resource for Stanford Hospital patients. The Spiritual Care Center bases their emotional support on finding hope through belief, whether that belief may be in religion or not depends on the patient. Stanford also offers an Art and Music program along with twice-weekly activities for patients. Many hospitals have also begun to offer a program similar to PAWS. PAWS and other service animal programs offer patients an opportunity to relieve stress and anxiety by being in the company of service dogs. Many hospitals also have a Child Life Specialist. A Child Life Specialist is a type of pediatric healthcare professional, who specializes specifically in working with children and families to cope with the challenges of hospitalization or illnesses. With this internship, I was able to learn the many ways that both hospitals and patients are working to make the long-term hospital experience better for themselves and each other.

Comments (1)

Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 5, 2018 at 9:06 am

There is a lot of new research and understanding of mental illness and depression, past the simple-minded "it's a chemical imbalance" explanation usually given to sell drugs.


A very interesting point of view on depression backed up with interviews and data is
"Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression - and the Unexpected Solutions" by Johann Hari

From the Amazon summary: Web Link

From the New York Times best-selling author of Chasing the Scream, a radically new way of thinking about depression and anxiety.

What really causes depression and anxiety - and how can we really solve them? Award-winning journalist Johann Hari suffered from depression since he was a child and started taking antidepressants when he was a teenager. He was told that his problems were caused by a chemical imbalance in his brain. As an adult, trained in the social sciences, he began to investigate whether this was true - and he learned that almost everything we have been told about depression and anxiety is wrong.

Across the world, Hari found social scientists who were uncovering evidence that depression and anxiety are not caused by a chemical imbalance in our brains. In fact, they are largely caused by key problems with the way we live today. Hari's journey took him from a mind-blowing series of experiments in Baltimore, to an Amish community in Indiana, to an uprising in Berlin.

Once he had uncovered nine real causes of depression and anxiety, they led him to scientists who are discovering seven very different solutions - ones that work. It is an epic journey that will change how we think about one of the biggest crises in our culture today.


There is also a Japanese TV miniseries called "Origins Of Disease: An Evolutionary Perspective" where in Episode #2, "2. Depression: Legacy Of The Survival Instinct": Web Link

From the Amazon description:
Scientists discovered that under certain conditions, the part of the fish brain that works to protect them from natural predators goes out of control and causes depression. When mammals began living in groups, they developed traits that lead to a similar, poorly regulated response in the brain. This program also introduces the latest treatments.

The basic idea here, paraphrased, is that human evolved because they worked well cooperatively, in groups. When we became separated from our groups it was a threat to our survival - a physical threat, stress until we re-attached. Fast forwarding to the present day, we are isolated and our economy tells us we must compete with each other, not trust each other, and stab each other in the back. We see media violence and are soaked in a society that delivers these messages to us all day every day all of our lives, and it is against our fundamental nature. We have been so alienated from ourselves that we developed depression and other mental illnesses based on stress and we cannot even see it because we have no models of natural human behavior, and no reference points. Humans need love and nurturance to be human and contribute.

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