Carmen has always been a go-getter. As a young child, she was committed to karate and loved being outside. She enjoyed art and movies and was involved in more school and community activities than you can count on one hand.
In 2016, however, tragedy struck Carmen's family when her father passed away unexpectedly. Looking back, Carmen says this event marked the beginning of a struggle with her mental health.
"I missed a bunch of school because there was a lot going on with our family," Carmen says. "We moved to a new town, and I was trying to adjust to a new school. Things started to go downhill over the course of the next year."
It is truly an honor to get to work with amazing children and adolescents like Carmen and see them flourish as they recover from their eating disorders.
Carmen finds help for an eating disorder
Carmen began exercising and trying to make healthier food choices, both new habits started with the best of intentions. But over time, she became more restrictive with her diet and increasingly compulsive about exercise. Her mother, Diana, brought it up to Carmen, but she assured her mom that she had things under control.
During her freshman year of high school, a concerned teacher noticed the changes in Carmen's physical health and alerted the school nurse. When the nurse couldn't detect a strong heartbeat during a wellness check, she called Carmen's mom, who immediately took her to the Emergency Room at Children's Medical Center Plano. Carmen was admitted to the Center for Pediatric Eating Disorders at Children's Health℠ the next day.
Over the next several weeks, Carmen worked with Andrew McGarrahan, Ph.D., Pediatric Psychologist at Children's Health, or "Dr. Andy" as Carmen calls him. Carmen learned more about her eating disorder and developed a plan with her care team that empowered her to overcome it. She transitioned to online school so that she could focus on improving her overall health.
"Working with patients with eating disorders requires a skilled multidisciplinary team of professionals from a variety of disciplines to provide family-centered treatment and support," Dr. McGarrahan says. "It is truly an honor to get to work with amazing children and adolescents like Carmen and see them flourish as they recover from their eating disorders."
After tremendous effort and commitment, Carmen graduated from the inpatient program at Children's Health. She continued her recovery through a residential program, and briefly moved to North Carolina to spend time with her grandmother, where she continued to grow stronger each day.
Supporting other teens struggling with mental health
In 2020, Carmen returned to Texas. As she adjusted to her healthier lifestyle back at home, she began noticing a common theme amongst her peers: Many were experiencing feelings of anxiety and isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Carmen, who previously assumed she was alone in struggling with mental health, says it was then that she decided to do something about it.
"In treatment, you see your struggle as an isolated thing and something that doesn't happen to everyone," Carmen says. "But as I saw more friends posting on social media about the difficulties they were facing, I understood how many others needed a support system like I had."
Nearly two years after overcoming her eating disorder, Carmen worked with one of her teachers to create a new club, Mental Matters, at her high school. The group focuses on sharing resources to support students' mental health and destigmatizing mental illness. They also work on service projects, including a coordinated effort to create more than 900 friendship bracelets for patients in the Eating Disorders clinic at Children's Health to remind the patients that they are not alone.
"Thanks to Carmen and her classmates, we have already passed out dozens of bracelets and notes of support to patients and some to staff," Dr. McGarrahan says. "When patients pick out a bracelet, we tell them the story of a former patient with an eating disorder who fought to recover and then used her strength, kindness and empathy to impact patients for years to come."
Carmen says the feedback on Mental Matters has been overwhelmingly positive and has reiterated the need to support students' mental health. Though each member's journey may look different, knowing that she and her classmates are not alone in their struggles has made the school year a little brighter for everyone.
Children's Health offers the nation's only pediatric program that has earned the Joint Commission's Disease-Specific Certification for eating disorders treatment. Our team works with children and teens to create a custom care plan that is tailored to their unique needs and addresses all aspects of your child's health. Learn more about our eating disorder program.
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