Jenna, 14, is a sweet, kind and loving teenager with an undeniable sparkle in her eye. She smiles—showing off her new braces—as she stands in a hallway of our College Hill campus proudly displaying a stunning photo of a butterfly.

“I took this,” she giggles softly. “But I’m actually afraid of butterflies.” One by one, she shares a handful of photographs, each with its own story, that she’s taken as part of our Patiently Made program. No one would ever guess that she walked these halls as a patient just a few months ago.  

“Growing up, Jenna was very angry and defiant,” her mom, Kelli, remembers. “As she got older she started experiencing a lot of anxiety. She cried often, refused to go out in public and started talking about wanting to end her life.” 

While she’s barely a teenager, Jenna has been hospitalized at Cincinnati Children’s multiple times for psychiatric emergencies. Each time, Kelli relied on our experts to provide the life-saving care Jenna needed. 

“I thought I might lose my daughter,” Kelli recalls. “Thankfully Cincinnati Children’s has been here to help every time.”

Responding to a Critical Need

Nationwide, the number of children seeking mental healthcare continues to rise—and Cincinnati is no exception. An average of 20 children arrive at our doors with a mental health emergency every day, and that number is growing. 

Moreover, lack of access to specialized care can be life-threatening for kids facing conditions like anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression and other mental health conditions.

“Pediatric mental health problems are extensive,” explains Michael Sorter, MD, director, Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s. “We’re responding to an explosive demand of families seeking help. Mental health needs exceed resources and mental illness is less stigmatized than it was in the past, so more families are bringing loved ones to us for care.”

To meet these growing needs, Cincinnati Children’s provides a wide range of specialized care with a personalized approach, including outpatient care, partial hospitalization, inpatient programs and a residential treatment program at our College Hill campus. 

“We provide the largest continuum of care in any pediatric medical center in the nation,” Dr. Sorter explains with a noticeable hint of optimism in his voice. 

As a result, every child in our care benefits from the latest in pediatric mental health research. Our experts take their findings from bench to bedside, giving our patients access to new treatment programs. 

A New Approach to Therapy

From art and music to horticulture and horses, our proven and innovative programs use experiential and recreational therapy to help kids and teenagers better understand their illness and work toward healthier futures. 

“Therapeutic recreation can be tremendously helpful for children with mental illness,” explains Dr. Sorter. “This method of individualized therapy allows them to engage in a leisure activity, while simultaneously learning skills that will improve their overall health and well-being.”

Jenna is one of the newest members of Patiently Made, a unique program that provides patients, parents and caregivers an opportunity to create and sell artwork—with proceeds benefiting the Division of Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s. What’s more, the art helps to raise awareness for and reduce the stigma of mental illness. It’s a way for children and teens who are still healing to help themselves—and others.

“The Patiently Made program has been extremely helpful for Jenna,” her mom shares. “She wants to help other kids, and this program is a great way for her to do that.” 

Donors are Changing the Landscape of Care

Ongoing support from donors—like our friend Kathy—has played a significant role in our ability to expand and transform the care we provide for children and families who come to us for help with mental illness. 

“Cincinnati Children’s helped my family when no one else could, without asking for health insurance first,” she remembers. “I was so impressed by that, and that’s why I’ve chosen to give back to the medical center.”

Kathy provided funding that helped establish our equine therapy program—a form of recreational therapy that uses horses to help kids and teenagers learn more about themselves and their illness. She has witnessed the program’s tremendous impact first-hand. 

“It’s incredible to see how horses can be used to teach kids things like empathy and self-confidence,” she explains. “I hope this program gives kids the therapy they need to thrive.” 

The equine therapy program’s success and popularity among patients inspired Kathy to increase her gift in 2016. She also established a life insurance policy benefiting Cincinnati Children’s to ensure the program will be here for years to come. 

“Philanthropic support is indispensable,” Dr. Sorter asserts. “Support from donors has permitted our expansion and improvement across the board—from educational services and inpatient programs to emergency assessment and suicide prevention efforts.”

Turning to the Future

Jenna still has her ups and downs, and continues to work with a therapist to manage her condition. She can’t wait to get behind the lens of her camera during the next Patiently Made photo shoot this spring. 

“Mental illness can be a chronic condition that is difficult to manage,” Dr. Sorter explains. “It may be a long battle for these kids that requires continuous treatment and support. It’s important to remember that children are very resilient. Many are able to fully recover and others improve significantly to have happy, productive lives.”  

Kelli can’t help but smile as she watches Jenna bond with the Cincinnati Children’s care team.

“The staff and doctors have been great,” Kelli shares. “I don’t know how we would have made it through without their huge support system.”

With donor support, our commitment to improving and saving the lives of kids battling mental illness is stronger than ever. Together, we’ll continue transforming pediatric mental healthcare and helping kids live brighter, more fulfilling lives.