GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — When a teenager’s need for mental health treatment led to frequent trips from the Upper Peninsula to West Michigan, a Grand Rapids organization stepped in to take some of the stress off the family’s shoulders.
The Gordier family lives in Chippewa County’s Superior Township, not far from Sault Ste. Marie. Paige Gordier said three of her four children have struggled with severe depression and suicidal thoughts.
“Heather also has bipolar and OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder),” Gordier told 24 Hour News 8 of her youngest daughter. “So that means when she is really depressed, she will obsess about killing herself.”
At 17 years old, Heather Gordier enjoys snowmobiling, art and competing in beauty pageants.
“With my depression and bipolar, it’s taken away so much from my life,” she said.
Her mother said that finding help for her daughter became much more difficult after a Marquette mental health facility shuttered its adolescent wing.
“The problem is in the Upper Peninsula we just don’t have a lot of services,” Paige Gordier said.
Her daughter sometimes requires in-patient, dayslong treatment. Only qualified psychiatrists can write or change her prescriptions. With limited resources nearby, the family began driving hundreds of miles for treatment.
“You don’t have a choice. You have to go to the emergency room and as soon as they say, ‘We’ve got a bed,’ you go,” Paige Gordier explained.
She said that when life-threatening emergencies arise, she has to take her daughter to an emergency room near their home. There, they wait — sometimes for hours — while ER officials scour the state for an open bed at a mental health hospital. The closest option, according to Paige Gordier, is Forest View Hospital in metro Grand Rapids.
“The only reason I’m still alive right now is because of these facilities,” Heather Gordier told 24 Hour News 8, “because if I wouldn’t have gotten help, I would’ve killed myself.”
Despite finding a solution for treatment, getting to the facility brought its own set of problems. Paige Gordier tried to budget for hotels while her daughter received in-patient care. In January, she filed for Family Medical Leave Act benefits as she ping-ponged between West Michigan and the UP. During one of the Forest View visits, she drove back and forth three times in two weeks.
“It was really hard both financially, timewise, stress,” she shared.
Things got a little brighter when the Ronald McDonald House of Western Michigan stepped in.
“This is amazing for us,” a relieved Paige Gordier said.
The Ronald McDonald House is well known for helping families from all over the world who come to Grand Rapids for medical treatment of rare disorders and life-altering cancers. The organization offers free housing, free meals and free amenities.
The no-cost services are not limited to physical illnesses. The Gordiers breathed a little easier after learning that the Ronald McDonald House accepted their application to stay there.
It’s the only resource in the state extending free assistance during mental health treatment, according to officials at the Ronald McDonald House.
The house, located on Cedar Street in northeast Grand Rapids, features a free laundry room and game room. There’s also outdoor and common spaces for the guests.
“I refer to it as my home or my house because that’s what it feels like,” Heather Gordier said. “It feels like we’re just one big family and we’re all just staying in a house together.”
The comforts of the facility provide families like the Gordiers a certain stability that they say is difficult to put into words.
Heather Gordier said she doesn’t let her mental health battles define her, but she wants everyone to understand the reality of mental illness. She says people need to better educate themselves and take mental health more seriously.
“I’ve been told that, ‘Oh, are you going to flip on me?’ or whatever because I’m bipolar,” Heather said. “Just little things like that, that you shouldn’t say to people.
“Replace (the word) depression or anxiety with ‘cancer,'” she continued. “Say, well, just go outside and your cancer will go away or just calm down, it’s just your cancer or whatever. It’s like, you can’t just wish it away just because it’s in your head. It’s just as bad as when it’s physical.”
Officials at i understand, a local nonprofit that works to help those affected by mental illness or suicide, told 24 Hour News 8 that more teenagers die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, aids, stroke, pneumonia and the flu combined. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it is the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 34, behind only unintentional injury.
The Ronald McDonald House has teamed up with i understand and Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services to put on an event on May 1, which is also the beginning of Mental Health Month. The free event is the third part of a three-part discussion series titled “Let’s Talk About It.” Speakers will share tips on how parents can take care of children and themselves after a mental health crisis.
For people in crisis, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can always be reached at 1.800.273.8255 or online.