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Psychiatry Newsletter - A Long Road to 'Really OK'

Hopkins Brain Wise Summer 2010

A Long Road to 'Really OK'

By: Marjorie Centofanti
Date: July 10, 2010

It’s rare to have someone volunteer to talk openly about a psychiatric stay in a hospital—rarer still when that person is in high school. But Ashley Lamphere, now 17, who suddenly found her body capable of severe depression and anxiety, also has unusual insight and a generosity of spirit.*

Here Lamphere tells how she experienced the Balance Program for Young Adults—an update on Hopkins’ already-respected inpatient treatment for that age group, but with a new emphasis on family involvement and on the transition back home.

I know it’s unusual, but when I was 14, I asked to go to boarding school. It seemed right to leave the school in Manhattan that I’d always attended, to try something new. But once I was there, things seemed to fall apart. I was anxious in a way I’d never been. I couldn’t focus. I was up entire nights without sleep. Seeing the school counselor didn’t help; things got worse. 

What really worried me was that I wanted to hurt myself in odd ways—something I’d never felt before.  Because my dad is bipolar, my mom was especially concerned about that. [Lamphere’s father shared his story with Brain Wise several years ago.] Luckily, mom knew to get help. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and given medication.

I agonized for two weeks about whether to return to boarding school—decisions are hard when you’re depressed—and though I felt conflicted, I went back to my old school with my close friends and support. I wasn’t well, though. Thoughts of hurting myself turned into casual thoughts of suicide. Then I started to add details.

[This led Lamphere to a week in a hospital. She was discharged but then, several weeks later, went back to a different hospital after she admitted collecting Advil. She was there a month.]

A pattern began to appear. I’d anticipate leaving the hospital so much that I’d feel better. But I see now that I didn’t know how to take care of myself when I got home. I couldn’t cope. Finally, in November—the night after I swallowed all of my medications and ended up going to  the local hospital—my dad drove me to Baltimore. The next morning, I was at Hopkins, where he’d been helped, talking with Dr. Kastelic. [Psychiatrist Elizabeth Kastelic admitted Lamphere to a 4-bed service for young adults and teens. Meyer 4 also has an adult mood disorders section.]

What was different there? For one thing, I’d felt guilty about how I was feeling—like I was really just some hormonal, angst-y teenager exaggerating things. But the doctors emphasized that my problem was real, largely chemical and out of my control. And seeing the very sick adults around me with the same symptoms I had convinced me of that.

I learned about coping mechanisms. And though I laughed at first at the worksheets we had to fill in, I still have them at home because they were so helpful. Having to list how I would spend my time, how to find my safety net were new to me. Being there helped me see the good things in my life and how to make use of them. I also learned to be more aware of my state of mind, how to recognize a downward spiral.

Dr. Kastelic asked about my family relationships. I know others my age who suffer from depression, and they all say their parents are a source of stress. So she asked to meet with me and my mom. We talked about the importance of support, of understanding. It was good for us both.

Now I’m back in school and looking at colleges. The past two years have had ups and downs, but I’m more realistic in expecting that and in not being bothered by it. They helped me rebuild my life. Now I’m really OK. 
*Her parents and doctor are aware of our publishing this. 

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