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Giving Back Blog

  • Writer's pictureAscension Illinois Foundation

Support for Youth Mental Health



Over the course of a few years as she transitioned from childhood to adolescence, an eating disorder robbed a girl of many of the things she loved most about her life. As she lost more and more weight, it also stole her heart’s ability to function properly and keep her alive.

At 13 years old and with a condition that put her at high risk of heart failure, she was admitted to the hospital. Once medically stabilized, she was transferred to the inpatient eating disorder unit at Ascension Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital, where she spent several weeks before transitioning to a partial hospitalization program.

After many months of intensive, specialized inpatient and outpatient treatment for eating disorder, her life was saved.

“If I didn’t get the help I got, I would have died from what I was going through,” she said. “I’m extremely grateful.”

Increases in Youth Anxiety and Depression

The mental health needs of youth and adolescents in our communities have skyrocketed over the past several years.

“With COVID and with our world around us, it is really impacting our kids to the point where they are experiencing huge increases in anxiety, depression, hopelessness about things like, ‘What is my life going to look like?’ ‘What is my future going to be?’” said Dawn Gomez, MSW, LCSW, CCTP, Supervisor, Social Work, Ascension Saints Mary & Elizabeth.

In the past year, 15 percent of youth have experienced a major depressive episode, according to Mental Health America. Two out of three of them are not receiving treatment. Some delayed seeking treatment. Many others are unable to access it, for example because providers are booked and wait lists are long, or because they have no way to pay for services.

Responding to the Need

“We’ve been seeing more and more children presenting for services here within our health system,” said Clay Ciha, President and CEO, Ascension Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital. “We’ve opened two additional units at our hospital, and all of our programs across the health system for behavioral health for children and adolescents are full.”

Philanthropy has played — and continues to play — a critical role in helping Ascension Illinois respond to the mental and behavioral health needs of youth and adolescents in the communities we serve. For example, donors are helping to:

  • Open Chicago’s first inpatient eating disorder program for youth like the girl mentioned in the story above

  • Transform how youth and adolescents in psychiatric crisis are cared for in emergency rooms

  • Ensure resources are available to families who need neuropsychological exams and resources for living with autism spectrum and developmental disorders

  • Provide counselors for students in local schools

“A lot of the kids we serve walk around with great shame that they’re different,” said Jacquelyn Bustos, Teacher, Special Education, Hospital-Based, Ascension Saints Mary & Elizabeth Chicago. “We are here to let them know we need their brains. We are here to support them.”

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Share your Ascension Illinois story of hope and healing. Please contact:

Emily Dagostino

Director, Communications

Ascension Illinois Foundation

708-829-4167

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