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That Time We Put Our Child in a PHP (Partial Hospitalization Program).

Updated: Oct 18, 2023

kids mental health

Photo by Kat J on Unsplash


Disclaimer: Before you read this article that I have put off publishing over and over because of my hesitation to put out there that he is “okay” now, we are still struggling. We struggle every day. Yes, there are good days but then there are also really, really bad days. This post is about a decision we made for our son 2 years ago to expedite the process to get our son help. It never stops. Mental illness is exactly that, an illness, it never goes away. There are things you can do to improve it but it is always there, lurking, waiting. We recently dealt with a very severe incident that I am not ready to write or talk about, I may never be. Sometimes, my husband and I have to weigh out the ups and downs of sharing our whole story with people that try to understand but truly never will.

Making the decision to send our nine-year-old (then, seven) to a PHP (Partial Hospitalization Program) was actually not as hard as it should have been. He needed the intervention of an extreme sort and he needed it yesterday. In the almost nineteen years of being with my husband, I have to say that the experiences we were having with Grayson were some of the hardest ones yet.

I am so thankful that another mom had told me about the mental health program for kids at Columbus Springs. I actually did not walk in knowing that he would be attending an actual PHP program. I had really just wanted to have a program to help me figure out what meds he needed to take. He was not having a good experience with his current meds and our pediatrician told us that we needed to go elsewhere for help, without actually giving us a referral. For some reason, it was a one and done situation, if the meds that they gave him didn’t work we needed to go somewhere else.  Just lovely. Did I mention he told his doctor that he would hurt her if she sent him to a counselor and still…I don’t get it. We all need more when it comes to mental health. This is not okay.

Some of my closest friends pointed out that it was probably better that I did not know ahead of time that Grayson would be going Monday through Friday 9-2 at the end of his summer. True. I think too much and I worry that I took away his summer. I mean, the kid was already struggling and here I am taking his summer away, too?! I felt so bad waking him up at the butt crack of dawn (no joke, some days at 5:30) to go to the program that at times seemed like school. But in the end, I knew that this is what we had to do.

If you had known a little bit about my Grayson, you would definitely know that he had been struggling. As a family, it felt like we were barely keeping our heads above water, I felt helpless. In all honesty, that summer had been entirely a shit show and sometimes it felt like we were just getting through it by the skin of our teeth.  We reached the breaking point when he started to say the somewhat common (that had gone away for a little bit while starting meds) “I want to die,” but adding a lot more detail. We had been told it was common for kids his age to say something like this and to just ignore it because he was trying to get negative attention. Well, it had gotten way worse than that and I will spare you the details because honestly, it’s hard to tell without sounding extreme. Plus, even I don’t feel it necessary to share every single detail of our lives.

Some people can say it’s for attention but you know what? I never cared to embark on that road of denial. There is mental illness on both sides of our family and unfortunately, out of our three kiddos, my sweet boy seems to be dealing with the brunt of it. That’s okay though because we are working to get him the tools he needs now to be able to learn to cope with his mental illness and disabilities. One day, we will look back upon these chaotic days and smile because we got through it successfully, at least that is our hope of all hopes.

What is the PHP Program?:

PHP is the next step after a more intensive inpatient program for mental health stabilization or substance use detoxification. Grayson attended the program at Changes Columbus Springs. The program includes such services as medication management, evidence-based therapy and other holistic therapies. The program helps an individual overcome negative emotions and behaviors while also building some coping strategies. While Grayson was there, they had art and music therapies and they even had small ceremonies for the children when they were leaving the program.

Grayson was picked up by their transportation every day that he attended around 6 am, that was kind of rough as you can imagine. However, his driver was truly a gem and knew how to handle it very well with a calm demeanor.  It is hard enough for any of us to get up that early but with a child that is mentally struggling and just starting a new medication, wow that was rough. He would spend the day at the program that was around 45 minutes from our home and meet with all of his different specialists, as well as attend the group activities. He did not always participate but we did feel they were able to get him to become less defiant and develop some confidence by the end of the program. Grayson was then brought home around 4 pm and would do it all over again the next day. For the life of me, I cannot remember how long the program took place but it did end up going into the beginning of the school year. I felt really bad that he missed the beginning festivities with his classmates but the school and everyone involved was extremely understanding. Mental health comes first and I will never bend in that statement when it comes to my family.

After PHP:

When he came home from the program he was not an absolute mess. He would tell us about his day and ask how our day was. He had a lot more to talk about these days and a much more positive outlook. What a difference. He even told his siblings when they were doing things that were not desired and how they could change their behavior. These are things he was not able to do before.

I cannot sit here and tell you that it was necessarily life-changing but I did feel like we needed a quick way to get him on prescription medicine without waiting a ridiculously long time for the appointment. You gotta do what you gotta do to make things happen sometimes. I will never regret what we did.

I also feel that it showed our little buddy just how much his mental health and what he was going through meant to us. In the end, he saw it as his own accomplishment of getting through the program and he knew how very proud we were of his hard work.

The people that he worked with were well-meaning and that was what mattered most. Did I feel they were the best trained in their positions? No, not really. However, I could tell that they truly cared about what was in Grayson’s best interest and wanted to help him through his struggles. We did not leave the program with a package of coping skills that we had been promised as the family of the patient but we had a few conversations throughout and the care and concern was definitely there.

Meds

Let me tell you….and I can already hear the chorus of people wanting to give their opinions or natural remedies that would help Grayson…meds were the answer for us. Now, did we find the right combo right away? Nope. Did we continue trying? Hell, yes!

I understand those people out there that have natural remedies when it helps with flare-ups or mild cases, but that is just not our situation. Believe me, I have tried more than a few things and we were just not seeing progress.

We are currently working with an anti-depressant, that has actually been the life changer out of everything so far. An anti-depressant mixed with an ADHD med has helped us see the Grayson that we knew, not that long ago. Even Grayson has seen the difference and comments on how much better he feels. One thing that is still a stressor for us, is that the ADHD med suppresses his appetite. He is so skinny, but I do have to remind myself that Shannon and I were both skin and bones until we graduated from high school. Still, though…Mommy worries. (Update: He is actually not as small as his older brother and is still in a normal percentile range per his well-check, so I feel really good about that). 

In the morning, before he takes his meds I do my best to pack him full of protein with the homemade smoothies that he desires. His current favorite  peanut butter, banana, mixed with milk, greek yogurt, protein powder, honey and some ice. Lunch he eats very little but dinner we can get him to eat a little bit these days. Then, his appetite always comes close to bedtime, so we always try to have protein-packed snacks available and a bowl of cereal is not far from reach. 

And so…

I often find myself worrying about what the future holds for my son’s mental health but you know what, we will be there. We will be there every large, small, minute step of the way. I could worry but I can also remind myself of Grayson’s heart of gold and love for living creatures. I will choose to believe that one day he will work with animals and caring for them will help him through these struggles that he has learned how to cope with. You just do not know and what some of my best friends and counselors like to remind my anxiety-ridden brain is that we cannot control the future and thinking negatively only breeds negative thoughts about events that may never come to fruition. Take it day by day. Focus on the now. All you can do is what you can do, the biggest thing is to focus on the positive and continue to work towards a better tomorrow for your family. We do that through counseling, prayer, writing and even just reminding each other about the positive things that happened in our day. 

Be well, friends. Be kind.

~Amanda

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