NEWS | MENTAL HEALTH “MAKING IT WORSE,” CONTINUED...
he last time the Inlander spoke to Abby was in spring 2018. Then, Abby was a student at Sacajawea Middle School preparing a speech for a walkout that would call for lawmakers to do something to end school shootings. By the time the walkout actually happened, however, Abby was in the hospital. It was one of five times over the past two and a half years that she went to the hospital because she felt suicidal. Each time, she stayed there for about a week and was stabilized. She was treated through the Providence RISE program, which provides intensive outpatient treatment. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and the way Abby describes it, her depression “kind of comes in swings.” It came back in February of this year, and Abby ended up back at Kootenai Behavioral Health. There, Abby’s case manager and therapist recommended a residential facility where she could get intensive inpatient treatment for a longer period of time. Riggs, her mom, says it was described as a sort of “reset”: Abby might have a difficult couple of months but come out better for it. But there were few choices available. Tamarack Center in Spokane was the closest option, but it had a long wait list. That left Acadia as the best available option. “They really didn’t know much about the facility there,” Abby says. Abby was immediately intimidated when she got to Acadia Montana. The fences were really tall. She gave them her mental health history during intake, and staff told her when she got to the girls hall that it would be a “little rowdy.” She was pointed to a room where she told a group of other girls her name. She felt a bit disoriented.
Suddenly a fight broke out in the hall. And then a girl came up to Abby and told her that someone wanted to beat her up. “And at that point,” Abby says, “I had been there for like five minutes.” She saw things that disturbed her over the course of the two weeks there. She says her roommate had psychotic episodes, and a nurse would come to take her to the “quiet room,” which Abby says is basically like
“In the two weeks that I was there, I didn’t meet with a therapist or psychiatrist once.” solitary confinement. When Abby’s roommate returned, “she would be like a vegetable.” Abby didn’t know what was happening at the time, but after reading reports about Acadia injecting kids with Benadryl and other antihistamines, Abby now suspects her roommate was being drugged. Other times Abby says the staff was negligent. Once, her roommate repeatedly was banging her head against the wall and staff failed to act, leaving it to the other girls to put their hands in between the wall and the girl’s head. For Abby, every day was the same routine. She’d wake up and ask to take a shower, line up for breakfast, stay quiet in line, eat at the cafeteria, go to the facility’s school, go to lunch, go back to school, sit in the community room, go to dinner, gather around for a movie, brush her teeth, then go to bed. Not a part of her day? Actual mental health treatment.
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“In the two weeks that I was there, I didn’t meet with a therapist or psychiatrist once,” Abby says. Her mom planned a visit two weeks into Abby’s stay, but Acadia initially told Riggs that nobody was allowed to visit Abby “because she hasn’t met with a therapist or psychiatrist yet,” Riggs recalls. Riggs was outraged. “What has she been doing for two weeks?” she asked. Eventually, they allowed her to come visit. Riggs won’t forget how Abby was shaking and crying as soon as she got into the car that day on March 2. “She was just so traumatized,” Riggs says. “We called Acadia from the hotel and said she’s not coming back.”
hese kinds of experiences are not rare in the United States. Suicide and depression among teens is rising, including in Washington, and access to treatment can be difficult. Simultaneously, big residential treatment facilities like Acadia are being shut down due to mistreatment of kids. Sequel Youth and Family Services runs many of these facilities throughout the country, including Clarinda Academy in Iowa. Foster kids from Washington in recent years have been sent to Clarinda when the state of Washington couldn’t find a home for them. A report released last year from Disability Rights Washington, a nonprofit advocacy group, revealed dismal conditions and inappropriate restraint practices there, so the state stopped sending kids to Clarinda. Recently, two other Sequel facilities in Utah have been shut down. Susan Kas, the staff attorney with Disability Rights Washington who has investigated Clarinda, worries that when states send kids to facilities far away, the state’s ability to monitor the treatment is diminished. Other states