What You Don't Want to Have Happen When Your Child is in the ER for Mental Health Reasons

The police had already arrived with Sunshine when my husband and I made it to the hospital. I was taken back to see her as my husband filled out admissions paperwork.

When I was brought back to be with Sunshine I thanked the police officer for his help and asked how she was on the way.

He quickly replied that she was great and walked away shaking his head.

Next came the nurse, bringing Sunshine something to eat.

“She has food allergies.” I said as quickly and as kindly as possible.

“I know. She told me.” That was all the nurse said and walked away shaking her head.


This was exactly what I feared most.

No one believed me.

Sunshine was acting like a perfect angel. And I was the crazy parent. I was already being judged harshly for seeking help for our family.

My husband came in at that moment. I asked where Sunshine’s therapist was as she had also followed us to the hospital.

They weren’t letting her come back.

“Go get her now! Do whatever you need to do. I NEED her back here with me.”

There was a cross between panic and anger in my voice. I couldn’t do this alone.

Already the story of what you don’t want to happen when your child is in the ER for mental health reasons was unfolding.

What You Don't Wnat to Have Happen When Your Child is in the ER for Mental Health Reasons

Sunshine’s therapist did join me shortly thereafter. My husband had to go to work and we knew it was going to be a long night.

And it was, but nothing happened as I thought it would

Just the Beginning

We changed rooms three times. The last time being at 10 PM right after Sunshine had finally settled down. Only the first room was set up for those with mental health issues who were a danger to themselves or others. Talk about making a difficult situation worse!

I thought we would at least meet with a doctor or something, but that wasn’t the case. A nurse practitioner spoke with us for less than two minutes and then I was asked to skype with a psychiatric on call nurse.

She looked at Sunshine for less than 30 seconds and then asked me a couple of questions. From there she said she would seek voluntary placement at an inpatient psychiatric facility for children.

After that we were literally left alone, shut up in a corner room as if we didn’t exist.

I asked about dinner for Sunshine.

“Sorry, the cafeteria is already closed.”

I asked if someone could watch Sunshine so I could make a phone call. Sunshine doesn’t let me talk on the phone. I needed to figure out what was going on with my other three children who had been shipped off with friends and neighbors.

With a look of disgust the nurse said she would try to find someone. A security guard eventually came in.

While I was on the phone, Sunshine pushed the code button sending the ER into a frenzy.

Sunshine takes her medications every evening at 8:30 PM. At 6 PM I mentioned this to nurses. It was at 9 PM that they informed me they didn’t have her medications and could not get them. We would have to have them brought in from home.

I wanted to cry.

So this is what it’s like when a parent seeks help for their child with mental health issues.

We remained in the ER for about 36 hours. While there, nurses brought Sunshine food she was allergic to. They showered her with gifts of stuffed animals, bubbles, balloons, and more. That’s on top of the unlimited TV time.

Sunshine thought she was on a vacation where everyone catered to her.

Meanwhile I couldn’t leave her room to go to the bathroom, get food or drink for myself, or do anything. Sunshine was my problem and everyone in the ER made that very clear.

I wasn’t sure if I should keep her as calm as possible or let her loose on hospital staff. As I spoke with other community resources, they said to keep her calm, as it wouldn’t speed up the process of finding a bed for her. None were to be had.

And that’s how it went. My husband switched off with me as he had the next day off. But still we made no progress. He petitioned the magistrate for involuntary placement, in hopes that we could speed up the process of getting help. The magistrate granted the petition, but then it just went downhill again.

More Defeat

Instead of a police officer simply standing outside of the door when the petition was granted, the captain of the police department along with an officer came and spoke to my husband. They were not on board with this.

Their concern being how traumatic it would be for Sunshine to be transported in a police vehicle to whichever hospital was selected for her placement.

As my husband explained behaviors, the police officers just shook their heads.

To be the parent that no one believes is terrifying, especially as you try to protect your other children.

In the end the woman screening Sunshine decided to deny involuntary placement for two reasons.

1. The transport to whichever facility was selected would be too traumatic for such a young child.

2. She was worried about Sunshine being safe in the state facility if that was the only option, as they’re required to take her.

My husband was literally handed discharge papers as Sunshine was beating him up.

We were furious and felt so broken.

What Now?

As we left the hospital Sunshine accelerated again. We had to wait for 30 minutes in the parking lot before leaving because she wasn’t safe.

Other mental health professionals had told us to take her to another ER if things didn’t work here.

My husband and I literally parked at a gas station for another 30 minutes to figure out a plan.

That’s when we decided if nothing else, we needed sleep and we knew Sunshine would sleep through the night with all of her medications.

After a police transport, 36 hours in an ER, and no progress made, we brought Sunshine home.

No one would help us.

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Call the Police!

I kept telling myself if we could just make it to the therapy appointment, we’d be okay.

It had been a week full of rages and aggression.

For the first time ever I found myself using the word violence to describe it.

Everyone was hurt. Some even had bruises.

It was the perfect storm of triggers.

No matter what we did, no one could make it stop.

I had cried every day.

We needed help.

But every time I thought to call the police, I knew she’d calm down before they arrived, and no one would believe me. I was just a bad parent who couldn’t control their child.

After all who could imagine that an innocent six-year-old child could be capable of so much.

The true story of how a family sought help for their child with mental health issues.

The Therapy Appointment

The therapist arrived Monday at about 12:15 PM. She listened as my husband and I recounted all that had gone on during the past week. I cried once again.

Dinomite, Bulldozer, and Princess shared all that had happened to them.

I had taken video of one of the most mild incidents, explaining that I had replayed it over and over trying to find the magic word or action that would make it stop.

I showed it to the therapist.

If I could just figure out what I was doing wrong… Surely there was something I could do differently, even though I felt like I had exhausted all of my options.

But that’s when she said it.

“This is not okay. Sunshine is in crisis. Your family is in crisis. You need help.”

And just like that she started making phone calls.

My husband and I looked at each other. At that point I can’t recall if we were more devastated, feeling as if we had failed, or if we felt relieved and validated that what we were experiencing was as horrible as we thought it was.

The bottom line was the therapist knew Sunshine wasn’t okay and we needed help.

Phone calls seemed to lead no where as we’re just barely established here and supports are minimal.

But then it happened.

Make the Call

We were all outside enjoying the weather. The kids were playing. Sunshine had just left the porch after speaking with her therapist.

As she passed Bulldozer she punched him.

The adults intervened.

Sunshine just accelerated.

I had to go get her.

That’s when she started hitting and kicking me.

I was trying to calm her. I was trying to comfort her. But nothing worked.

She just kept punching and kicking me.

That’s when the therapist spoke up.

“Call the police!”

She led my husband inside with Sunshine, observing how the rage and aggression continued to escalate while I stayed outside with the other kids and made the call.

Even now I can’t put into words what it felt like to call 911 on my baby girl.

I was shaking, stumbling on my words, and pacing back and forth in the yard.

My other kids were frightened and emotional.

We all knew that at some point this would happen, but we didn’t expect it now.

The kids wondered if one or more police officers would show up. They wondered if they would come sirens blazing. And of course the big question was how long it would take for them to get to us as we live out in the middle of nowhere.

I couldn’t answer their questions. We just had to wait.

I took turns hugging each of them as they cried and expressed their feelings about the situation.

Princess’ words still echo in my mind.

“I didn’t believe this could really happen. I can’t believe this is happening.”

Help Arrives

It took over 10 minutes for the police officer to arrive. He came in a disguised car with no sirens.

I directed him upstairs.

By that time Sunshine had calmed down. One would say she was even excited to see him. My husband and I cringed. This was the whole reason we hadn’t called before. No one would believe us.

But here’s the thing. The therapist had seen the episode. She had seen the recording of Sunshine’s behaviors from earlier in the week. It wasn’t just coming from us.

It was the therapist that asked that the police officer take Sunshine to the nearest emergency room so we could seek voluntary placement in a psychiatric hospital for children.

Sunshine needed help.

Thankfully I was able to find someone to take my other three children before Sunshine was brought downstairs.

We weren’t sure if she would go willingly or not. We were warned she put up a fight she would be handcuffed and taken away screaming.

I didn’t want my other children to see that.

It turned out Sunshine didn’t mind going with the police officer. The two walked hand in hand to the police vehicle. He strapped her in the back and I watched as they pulled out of the driveway.

Just the Beginning

My husband and I grabbed essentials and then headed to the emergency room. I cried all the way there. Neither one of us could express how we were feeling in words.

Ultimately though we both felt validated.

This was devastating.

It was a nightmare.

But it needed to happen.

We needed help and the only way to get that was to call the police.

This was just the beginning though.

There’s no turning back after you call the police.

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