When children in San Antonio experience a mental health crisis, where do they go? Every year, thousands of children find help at Clarity Child Guidance Center, a facility that serves children ages 3–17 with inpatient and outpatient mental health services. I recommend that you, too, take an hour on a Friday morning to attend a “Meet Me at Clarity” event.
I’m guessing that many of our readers have not ever set foot in a mental health care facility. That may be in part because of the stigma of mental illness, which makes it harder for people to talk about it and seek help, and also reduces the amount of resources available for treatment. Mental illness is much more common than most people realize; in fact, it affects one in five children in the United States. That’s the origin of the name for the One in Five Minds campaign, supported by Justice Luz Elena Chapa. Mental illness probably touches people you know, and maybe even members of your own family. This infographic is packed with facts about childhood mental illness.
Depression runs in my family, and I have experienced depression myself. As I’ve become an adult and a mother, I’ve learned how to take better care of myself, and it’s made me a stronger and more compassionate person. But how are children supposed to deal with depression, when their own brain chemistry betrays them? What happens to children when their depression reaches a crisis point, and where do they go for help?
Sometimes families avoid seeking treatment because of the stigma: Will people think the child is faking it, or judge them as weak? Say it’s just bad parenting or a lack of discipline? Wonder how their children will make friends if people know they are different?
A family doctor or pediatrician, who has hopefully known your child for years, should be the first person you turn to when you feel that something is not right. That might happen during back-to-school time, or standardized testing season—the busiest time of year at Clarity. Your concern might cause you to pick up and dial the 24/7 acute crisis line at 210-582-6412. Or your journey might take you to the family intake room at Clarity. Some children are brought to Clarity by first responders who have had crisis intervention training.
The intake area is a calm, welcoming place. The colors are soothing. There is text on the walls, in a thin Helvetica typeface: statements of purpose and patients’ rights, roadmaps for treatment, as well as inspirational quotes from John Lennon, Buddha, and other enlightened figures. Even the scents are calming.
The architecture is lofty, even elevating. Clerestory windows bring light into interior hallways. The building are surfaced in textured materials like limestone and brick. Open spaces have green grass and sweeping live oak trees. There are fences around the playground and the swimming pool, but no other visible signs of restraint. To get an online preview of the campus, take the virtual tour.
The campus is larger than I expected, and Clarity offers more kinds of treatment than I realized. Children in crisis can be admitted to a 66-bed inpatient facility, where they are protected 24/7 against harming themselves or others, typically for a period of 1–2 weeks. Then, they can transition to partial hospitalization, where they come to Clarity from 8 A.M. to 3 P.M. daily for sessions, play therapy, and schoolwork. Clarity serves 2,000 children ages 3–17 in the hospitalization settings every year. A further 9,000 children come to Clarity every year for outpatient treatment.
Children who are staying at Clarity have access to a red brick schoolhouse where they can continue their education in step with their peers. The staff are Northside ISD teachers who specialize in differentiation (e.g., they can teach a fourth grader and an eleventh grader in the same classroom). They communicate with the children’s teachers at their regular schools to get lessons and keep them up to speed; this will ease their transition back to school later. The play therapy building has a gym and rooms for classes in art, music, yoga, and cooking.
Now that I have seen Clarity first hand, I can tell that it is a place where children can get better. I know from my own experience that recovery is not a straight line, but the staff at Clarity communicate with parents about what to expect at different stages of the therapeutic process. In our society, children spend a lot of time in environments that use punishments or rewards to shape their behavior, but that doesn’t work if they don’t have the skills to manage their own behavior. Clarity is a place where they can learn those skills, whether it is mindfulness and meditation in yoga class, showing kindness to build friendships, or expressing their trauma through art.
As a parent, it’s terrifying to realize that your child needs help and you’re not sure where to go, or what struggles your child will go through as they get better. My son’s autism diagnosis has taught us some hard lessons, but it has also helped us to grow in resilience and humility. Visiting the Clarity campus has reassured me that there is a safe place for families struggling with mental health to go to find healing.
Whatever your fears are about what people will think if you have a child with mental illness, try to set them aside for the greater good. It’s more important to get your child they help they need to get better. Delay is not worth the risk that a child will harm himself or herself. Reassure yourself by reading what parents say about their experience at Clarity.
An ongoing challenge for Clarity is the need for resources to grow and serve more children around Bexar County. For example, if Clarity can open more clinics like the one in Westover, then they will be able to reach children in more areas of our community. Also, Clarity serves patients regardless of their ability to pay. Because of the stigma of mental illness, even families who have health insurance may find that mental health care is not fully covered under their insurance plan. Supporting Clarity give you the opportunity to change the future.
Here are some specific things you can do:
- Take the One in Five Pledge.
- Gather a group of friends for a tour or a “Meet Me at Clarity” presentation.
- Participate in a Clarity event, such as the ClariTEE Classic at TopGolf on November 13, 2016.
- Help raise awareness during Mental Health Month every May.
- If you encounter a young person or a family in trouble, show them how to get help.
I hope you, too, will visit the Clarity Child Guidance Center campus to experience the calm of their environment, and also to get armed with facts to fight the stigma of mental illness. The most vulnerable children in our community need our help.