Emma’s Story

Stella’s daughter Emma suffers with mental illness. Even before her parents went through a painful separation and what Stella refers to as a “high-conflict divorce,” Emma had begun withdrawing from life and her family.

The crisis reached a peak when Stella learned that Emma was cutting - a form of self-harm that many teenagers resort to in order to cope with feelings of numbness, anxiety, or guilt. This was followed by suicidal feelings and repeat trips to the emergency room. While they felt safe when she was in the hospital, the emergency department would always release her, telling her to “take her home, but if it gets worse you’re welcome to come back and sit (in the waiting room).”

It was ironic advice. Emma already felt like she was in a waiting room. She had felt that way for years – as if life would start for her if she could only overcome the insurmountable obstacles of her anxiety and depression.

Determined to get ‘out of the waiting room’, Stella sought counselling with CASA Child, Adolescent and Family Mental Health. The whole family began receiving treatment and support. Emma was admitted to CASA House – a residential treatment facility – and her brother Jake received his own outpatient counselling and support.

Having completed the CASA House program, Emma is now back at her local school, but the whole family continues to receive care. “My therapist is kind of like an extended family member,” says Emma. “It’s helped me a lot. I really don’t know where I’d be right now if I didn’t have somebody to talk to.”

Stella is grateful to CASA for its services, but all too aware of how her daughter’s journey back to health was made more painful by the stigma that surrounds mental illness. During the time that her daughter was an inpatient at CASA House, her son was also admitted to hospital with a heart condition. “One side met with a lot of well-wishes. The other side met with a lot of silence – people just didn’t know what to say.”

Stella and her family hope for a future where children, adolescents, and family members struggling with mental illness receive the same compassion, understanding, and quality of care as children suffering with other life-threatening illnesses, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.

“When we can start to break down barriers and recognize that pacemakers are really no more important than the brain, I think we will consider ourselves successful in the mental health field.”

It’s a compelling vision of the future. A future when mental illness is treated as an illness and not a label. A future where the organizations that provide mental health services are housed in state-of-the-art, purpose-built facilities. A future where no one needs to feel ashamed of their diagnosis and every child receives the full range of services and supports they need to get better.