Responding to a Community Crisis

We’re working with dedicated partners to improve mental healthcare for patients, families and care teams alike

When police arrived at Christine’s home one warm September evening, her heart dropped. 

She’d called them only hours before, her mother’s instinct telling her that something was very wrong when she couldn’t locate her son Joe. As a college student pursuing a degree in neuroscience, Christine’s 20-year-old son had dreams of becoming a psychiatrist and helping people who struggled with past trauma. 

People just like him. 

Since his early teens, Joe had suffered from an eating disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) resulting from years of sexual abuse in his childhood. During his first year of college, he struggled with the transition. And when the COVID-19 pandemic happened, the isolation from his friends hit hard. 

“It was all a blur. I felt like I was watching a movie about someone else’s life,” Christine says. “This couldn’t be happening in my life, in my family.”

But for too many families, it’s a nightmare that’s all too real. That day, Christine and her husband, Mike, learned that they’d lost their son to suicide. 

Enhancing Facilities to Improve Care

Today, children and teens are impacted by unprecedented levels of depression, anxiety, PTSD and other serious ailments. Even more alarming, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among 10- to 24-year-olds. 

As the largest inpatient mental health provider of any children’s hospital in the United States, we’re leading the charge to combat the devastating effects of mental illness. 

Thanks to a transformational gift of $36 million from the Convalescent Hospital Fund for Children, we’re building a new state-of-the-art facility to expand mental health programs at our College Hill campus—making bold strides to address a growing crisis in our community.  

“One in every five children struggles with mental health,” says Michael Sorter, MD, director of our Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. “We want to make sure that we don’t miss any of those kids, and this expansion is critical to what we want to do to improve our care and access.”

Encompassing 160,000 square feet, the new five-story structure will replace our current inpatient building and is scheduled to open in late 2023. The space will be the nexus of all our psychiatric care, enabling us to transform our approach to mental health in big ways.

  • Private rooms for all patients. Currently, about half of our patients share a room. With more space, kids can have private visits with their families, which aids in recovery and also helps them feel better prepared for their transition home.
  • Dedicated therapy space. Our group, speech, occupational and recreational therapy all currently take place in shared spaces. Providing private rooms and common areas for therapy will allow us to maximize these programs and minimize disruptions.
  • Respite areas for families and staff. Special areas designed with comfort and reflection in mind will provide overwhelmed parents, and our hardworking team members, space to decompress and recharge.
  • A calming environment. The new building will have a softness and warmth to it. Designs that evoke a sense of nature, rounded edges, ample sunlight and outdoor views will give patients, families and caregivers a sense of hope and healing.

Our commitment to the research and treatment of child and teen mental health goes back more than two decades. And today, improving care is a point of strategic focus—aligning with our broader work partnering with local schools, agencies and business leaders to eliminate mental health disparities.

That’s why we’ve committed to matching the Convalescent Hospital’s gift and are seeking support from the community. Christine and Mike are one of many donors answering our call, raising funds to help meet the match in honor of Joe. 

Committed to Changing Outcomes 

Christine and Mike first turned to us for help years before, when Joe showed signs of anorexia at age 13. She credits Laurie Mitan, MD, director of our Eating Disorders Program, for being a critical part of his care, providing a much-needed support system not only for her son, but for the entire family. 

This program collaborates with the divisions of Psychiatry, Nutrition Services, and Behavioral Medicine and Clinical Psychology to provide seamless family-centered care for our patients. 
“There was a point when Joe was spending as much time at Cincinnati Children’s as he did at school,” Christine says. “His caregivers became my community—my family.”

Because families are a critical part of our care team, we’re enhancing our spaces to enable them to work directly with caregivers and staff so they can become more involved in their child’s treatment.

“Providing more personalized, family-centered care is vital,” says Dr. Mitan. “Mental health is such an important yet underserved area in this country, and the expansion at College Hill will increase our capacity for treatment and improve the lives of many Cincinnati-area residents.”

But mental illness is often a chronic condition, and communities across our country are struggling. As Joe got older, he continued to experience a rollercoaster of ups and downs during his high school years. Christine and Mike were willing to try any and all options to help their son—and our care team supported them every step of the way, even coordinating visits to other specialized treatment centers out of state.

During his first year of college, Joe’s mental health took a sudden downturn as the beginning of the pandemic brought uncertainty and isolation. Frightened for her son, Christine urged him to seek help. 

“Since Joe was a legal adult, he had to secure care for himself. He was placed on a wait list at a treatment center he had been to out of state—and in the time leading up to his suicide, he called them every day, hoping for a bed to open up,” Christine shares. “The last time he called was the last day of his life. He needed that space.”

Charitable Partners Are Crucial to Addressing the Mental Health Epidemic 

Joe’s family wants to help ensure that other young people have easier access to treatment. It’s part of why they’re supporting our College Hill Campaign. They’ve decided to name the staff lounge in our inpatient unit in honor of Joe, and they hope to recognize how our dedicated teams work tirelessly for the families who rely on us. 

“Expert, compassionate care providers and staff are critical in this field,” Christine says. “And when they are taken care of, they’re able to better help kids and families.”

While other providers are cutting funding or closing mental health programs altogether, we’re continuing to invest because it’s the right thing to do. With help from grateful patient-families and other partners in our community, we can expand facilities and support caregivers, patients and families alike—so that all children can thrive.

“We want to honor our son’s legacy and help other kids out there who are suffering,” Christine says. “People need to care for one another—and that’s what Cincinnati Children’s is good at. Caring for kids and their families.”

For more information on how you can support our mental health programs, please contact Ashley Titus at 513-803-6593, or ashley.titus@cchmc.org