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.