Helping Children Manage their Mental Health

As a mother whose son is treated for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder at Children’s National said in a letter to other parents, “Mental health is not a stereotypically visual thing. We can’t put a cast on it, or operate on it, or give it an inhaler, but if it exists and if left untreated or ignored, it could possibly be fatal.” Dr. Kurt Newman, the president and CEO of Children’s National, has challenged staff to think about expand and improve services in this area rife with research and clinical opportunities that will require creative thinking and new funding sources. From this call to action came the new Inpatient Psychiatry Team Room, funded and designed by Bialek Environments. “The classroom is a warm and comfortable space for kids to learn basic skills and coping methods,” said Reginald E. Bannerman, the director of nursing in the psychiatry unit. “Since opening the space, we have noticed that when the kids come into the new space, their eyes light up. For a moment, they can forget they are in a hospital.” Every day, from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m., kids staying at the hospital meet with their teacher, Mike Ruiz, to learn how to manage their mental illness while building life skills such as doing homework and learning basic hygiene and social skills. Teaching in a room outfitted with flat screen TVs, computers, books, and video consoles, Mike now has the powerful incentive tools he needs to help kids establish better daily and long-term habits. For example, for good behavior, kids can earn points to watch TV or play games. For kids who are staying on the unit for a longer time period, they can use the new technology—for example, to connect them to the National Zoo via the TV in the classroom. “It’s been a blessing to have such a generous donation to our unit,” Ruiz said. “The kids respond well to the new classroom, and it’s nice to see them motivated to come to class. This project really shows how one donation can make a difference.”

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