Mental Health Matters: Former patient tells teens, ‘Don’t be ashamed to get help’

MIAMI – Depression, self-harm and suicide are rising among adolescents in the US.  The decline…

MIAMI – Depression, self-harm and suicide are rising among adolescents in the US. 

The decline in mental health among teenagers was intensified by the COVID pandemic. 

Alina Caro, 20, told CBS Miami she is in a good place now, but during her teen years, she struggled with her mental health. 

Currently, she is in school full time, interested in a degree in psychology, works part-time as a nanny and has lots of hobbies but it has been a journey to get to this point. She says her life took a drastic change when she was 16 years old. 

She was on a cruise with her family. “Three days in, I started to not really feel well and some things were happening. Some things were going on in my brain and I didn’t know what was going on,” said Caro.

The situation got really bad and her mother took her to the emergency room where they ran several tests. Doctors determined Caro was experiencing psychosis.

“We were very concerned. She spent a good amount of time with us on the CATS unit,” said Dr. Celine Hamilton the CATS Medical Director.

CATS stands for Child and Adolescent Treatment Services. It’s a Behavioral Health Unit with Memorial Health System that provides round-the-clock psychiatric care for youth experiencing a mental health or substance abuse crisis. 

Dr. Hamilton told CBS News Miami they have treated children as young as 4 years old, up to 18 years old as long, as they are still in high school.

The rooms in this 12-bedroom unit are very bare. There is nothing in the room that a patient could use to harm themselves. 

Treatment in the CATS unit averages about four days. They receive round-the-clock psychiatric care, including psychiatric evaluation and psychiatric stabilization for youth experiencing a mental health or substance abuse crisis. They also receive counseling, EKGs, X-rays or other medical tests and treatments if needed.

Caro shared a little about her experience on the CATS unit.

“I was able to be brought out of psychosis through medication and therapy which was what happened on the unit. While I was on the unit, the CATS unit, I was being monitored and I was being stabilized through medication and through talking with the doctor and nurses and everything and thankfully I came out of that state of mind,” said Caro.

Dr. Hamilton told CBS Miami there has been a sharp increase in the need for CATS services. Emergency room visits by children and adolescents are one rise for anxiety, mood disorders and self-harm right here in South Florida. 

“We have seen an exponential rise in children coming to the Joe DiMaggio ER for behavioral health crisis. In fact there has been a 20-percent increase in visits from 2022 to 2023 and we are no longer in the height of the Covid pandemic and we are continuing to see massive increases. Ideally, we would have double the size of our unit. We discharge about 70 children per month and we transfer out a very large number of children per month as well to other area hospitals because we simply do not have the space,” said Dr. Hamilton.

Dr. Hamilton says the decline in mental health among teenagers was intensified by the Covid pandemic and we are still feeling the impact. She offers this advice to parents.

“The most important thing I would say is communication. Checking in on a daily basis, making sure that the child is eating, sleeping and feeling supported within the family. That they are not withdrawn, isolated and lonely. So we want our children not in the dark playing video games. We want them out and about,” said Dr. Hamilton.

Doctors eventually determined that Cato had bi-polar personality disorder. 

“I remember hearing the words bi-polar disorder and thinking, oh my goodness. I really didn’t know how to feel. I didn’t know how to take it. But looking back now in hindsight, looking back I’m happy that I am confident in my diagnosis and I’m happy that I have the correct treatment and good treatment,” said Caro.

Caro says through therapy, medication and a treatment plan she is back to living her best life. She hopes by sharing her story, she will encourage other youth be mindful of their mental health and don’t be ashamed to get help.