Cincinnati Children’s expanding mental health services for kids, young adults

Christine Whelan and her husband Mike shared the story of their son Joe with WLWT on Wednesday. “His biggest goal was to be just a regular kid,” Whelan said. Judging strictly from photos of his young life, it looked like he had already achieved his goal. “Smart as a whip and funny as could be,” she remembered. “Loveable, inquisitive, insightful little guy. He just had this little sparkle and personality that was just adorable.” Glancing at his wide smiles while holding a baseball , a fish he caught, or a live turkey, all appeared right with his world. Behind Joe’s expressively happy face was an eating disorder and the mental scarring of being sexually abused as a boy. His parents suspected a trusted relative that they’re no longer in touch with. They said because their son would not testify about it, criminal prosecution could not be pursued. Around the time he turned 12, his parents noticed the nightmares, increased anxiety, and changes in their son’s behavior. He finally disclosed the root cause and years of off-and-on hospitalization and treatments followed as well as 24/7 monitoring at home. Joe’s parents would take turns sleeping on the floor near him to try to ensure he stayed safe.”We had literally lock boxes throughout our house with knives, scissors, forks, dog leash — anything that he could use to hurt himself was locked up,” his mother said. According to his parents, he managed to hide all of it from his high school classmates at Newport Central Catholic, where he ran cross country and graduated with honors. On scholarship at NKU, he majored in neuroscience. After he turned 20, COVID-19 hit and disrupted his routine, creating social isolation. Two years and one week ago, on Sept. 14, 2020, he said he was heading to class.”And, about four o’clock that afternoon, Mike came down and said, ‘Joe’s been calling pawn shops and gun shops,'” Christine recalled softly. “He had turned his location off .”Joe took his own life that day. Near a church in the woods is where his body was found by police. Cincinnati Children’s in College Hill is building a new facility to enhance mental health treatment and prevention. It’s a $105 million project the Whelans are, in a sense, helping to construct through their story.”So, for them to, I think, take their pain and suffering and put it out there really as an inspiration to help others is just a tremendous gift really to all of us,” Dr. Michael Sorter, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at CCHMC, said. He is hopeful about ridding the social stigma of mental illness as a generational shift occurs.”Younger people seem to be more open to this and open to discussions and more, you know, willing to kind of share their own pain but also listen to the pain of others,” Dr. Sorter said. “We’re at an inflection point here where really some good things can happen if we continue to try to drive to improve our systems of care.”Those systems will benefit from a concert at the Aronoff Center on Oct. 7, when Andy Grammer will be in town and talk about his mental health struggles. All of the proceeds from that event go to Cincinnati Children’s to specifically support treatment and prevention programs for children and teens. Joe’s father said anyone inclined to abuse others should face up to their own demons and get help instead of ruining the lives of others.”We see it all the time that people who don’t have, haven’t taken care of their own stuff, they pass it on to others and a lot of the cruelty in the world comes from those places,” he stated. “So, we need more people taking care of it and we need more people to take it seriously.”If you or someone you know needs help, you can talk with the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by calling or sending a text message to 988, or you can chat online here.

Christine Whelan and her husband Mike shared the story of their son Joe with WLWT on Wednesday.

“His biggest goal was to be just a regular kid,” Whelan said.

Judging strictly from photos of his young life, it looked like he had already achieved his goal.

“Smart as a whip and funny as could be,” she remembered. “Loveable, inquisitive, insightful little guy. He just had this little sparkle and personality that was just adorable.”

Glancing at his wide smiles while holding a baseball, a fish he caught, or a live turkey, all appeared right with his world.

Behind Joe’s expressively happy face was an eating disorder and the mental scarring of being sexually abused as a boy.

His parents suspected a trusted relative that they’re no longer in touch with.

They said because their son would not testify about it, criminal prosecution could not be pursued.

Around the time he turned 12, his parents noticed the nightmares, increased anxiety, and changes in their son’s behavior. He finally disclosed the root cause and years of off-and-on hospitalization and treatments followed as well as 24/7 monitoring at home .

Joe’s parents would take turns sleeping on the floor near him to try to ensure he stayed safe.

“We had literally lock boxes throughout our house with knives, scissors, forks, dog leash — anything that he could use to hurt himself was locked up,” his mother said.

According to his parents, he managed to hide all of it from his high school classmates at Newport Central Catholic, where he ran cross country and graduated with honors.
On scholarship at NKU, he majored in neuroscience.

After he turned 20, COVID-19 hit and disrupted his routine, creating social isolation.

Two years and one week ago, on Sept. 14, 2020, he said he was heading to class.

“And, about four o’clock that afternoon, Mike came down and said, ‘Joe’s been calling pawn shops and gun shops,'” Christine recalled softly. “He had turned his location off.”

Joe took his own life that day. Near a church in the woods is where his body was found by police.

Cincinnati Children’s in College Hill is building a new facility to enhance mental health treatment and prevention.

It’s a $105 million project the Whelans are, in a sense, helping to construct through their story.

“So, for them to, I think, take their pain and suffering and put it out there really as an inspiration to help others is just a tremendous gift really to all of us,” Dr. Michael Sorter, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at CCHMC, said.

He is hopeful about ridding the social stigma of mental illness as a generational shift occurs.

“Younger people seem to be more open to this and open to discussions and more, you know, willing to kind of share their own pain but also listen to the pain of others,” Dr. Sorter said. “We’re at an inflection point here where really some good things can happen if we continue to try to drive to improve our systems of care.”

Those systems will benefit from a concert at the Aronoff Center on Oct. 7, when Andy Grammer will be in town and talk about his mental health struggles.

All of the proceeds from that event go to Cincinnati Children’s to specifically support treatment and prevention programs for children and teens.

Joe’s father said anyone inclined to abuse others should face up to their own demons and get help instead of ruining the lives of others.

“We see it all the time that people who don’t have, haven’t taken care of their own stuff, they pass it on to others and a lot of the cruelty in the world comes from those places,” he stated. ” So, we need more people taking care of it and we need more people to take it seriously.”

If you or someone you know needs help, you can talk with the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by calling or sending a text message to 988, or you can chat online here.

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