"Poor Briana," Cynthia says. "Erica was taking up all the oxygen in the house."

Cynthia recalls the day she took Erica to see a pediatrician who specialized in adolescents. Until then, she and Michael had figured that letting their girls dress how they liked was a "pretty benign form of self-expression," but that day, she recalls, Erica was wearing "quite the outfit" — fishnet stockings, a tiny plaid skirt, platform shoes. She felt like the doctors' offices they waited in needed a "well area," a "sick area" and an "Erica area."

"She was scaring the other parents."

A poem by Cynthia Clark Harvey written after her daughter’s death.
A poem by Cynthia Clark Harvey written after her daughter’s death.

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THE LOST KIDS: Part 2 of an Ongoing Series

Part 1 told the story of Alex Varlotta, a boy who has struggled with mental illness. When he was 12, his mother called the police as a last-ditch attempt to get him help and keep her family safe. It worked — but at a price. Because their insurance wouldn’t pay for care, the Varlottas had to give up custody of their son to Child Protective Services. Now the state pays about a quarter-million dollars a year for Alex’s care. Today, the Varlottas play a tiny role in the caregiving process.

Part 2 explores another family’s struggle — and the tragic outcome. In both the Varlotta and this case, it’s painfully apparent that adequate services for mentally ill teenagers are tough to come by in our community.

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Erica admitted to the pediatrician that she was smoking cigarettes and pot. That doctor and a counselor confirmed that Erica needed her Prozac dose adjusted. Cynthia got an appointment for the following Monday.

But on the day of the appointment, Cynthia and Erica got in a fight, and Erica took off for a friend's house, even though she'd been ordered to stay in the house.

She left her backpack open on her bed, and Cynthia looked inside. She found local bus tickets. (Erica's school would later confirm that even though Cynthia had been faithfully dropping Erica off at school each morning, the girl would take off for much of the day.) Worse, she found a sack of 75 white pills and a jewelry box with five or six straight-edge razors in it.

"At that point, I'm totally chillingly afraid," Cynthia recalls.

When Erica came home, she confronted her and told her it was time to go to the psychiatrist. Erica refused. Cynthia told her what she'd found.

"I said, 'I don't know what I'd do if you killed yourself,'" she says, welling up.

Erica still refused. The psychiatrist's office told Cynthia to get Erica to a hospital. Cynthia called the insurance company for advice, which was: Get her to go willingly or call the paramedics or the police. Cynthia, who was hiding in the bathroom during the call, took notes with an eyeliner.

Even if you do get her to the hospital, the woman on the phone warned, don't expect for them to have a place for Erica.

"I don't know if it's the full moon or what, or 9/11, but every adolescent bed is full from Arizona to California."

Cynthia got more advice: Try to make it through the night. Put your car keys under your pillow, check Erica every hour. Lock up anything she can use to hurt herself.

"We made it through the night," Cynthia remembers. The next day, after calling the police to the house, Cynthia and Michael persuaded Erica to let them take her to a hospital. The pills had been antihistamines she'd bought from someone at school.

Erica was in the hospital for six days, on suicide watch for four of them. That meant no thong underwear and no stuffed animals. The doctors lowered her Prozac dose and prescribed more medication, including an anti-psychotic. She was diagnosed with depression with suicidal ideation and possible borderline personality disorder — although the latter is difficult to diagnose in a teen because, as Cynthia explains, that pretty much describes adolescence.

She was better for a while, and the family celebrated her 15th birthday quietly with a couple friends and the gift of Frederick, a sugar glider (a small marsupial) the Harveys still have. But by Halloween, things were bad again. Erica, who as a young girl had never been one to want to draw attention to herself (for example, she broke her heel in second or third grade and refused to use crutches) was wearing dramatic makeup and dressing even more provocatively. Some days, Cynthia recalls, she'd come to breakfast with thick rings of black makeup ringing her eyes; other days, she'd be "fresh as a milkmaid."

Cynthia and Michael kept trying new therapists, new methods. They wrote "behavior contracts." They drug-tested. They tried.

"We are triers," Cynthia says. "Give us a plan, and we'll try to work it. We will."

By late November, Erica was testing positive for cocaine and amphetamines, along with THC. She said it was Ecstasy she took on Halloween. She was grounded but continued to sneak away from school. Cynthia recalls the day she tracked Erica down to some shacks on 15th Avenue and Van Buren; Erica was hanging out with a boyfriend and had to be talked into going to the doctor for treatment of a rash.

The doctor said the rash was a side effect of the anti-psychotic. She took Erica off the drug but warned, "This could be tough."

It was. A couple of days later, the family drove to Albuquerque for Thanksgiving. Erica pulled it together for the trip, but when they returned home, she refused to get out of the car. Cynthia sat with her for hours.

After a talk with a new psychiatrist they liked, Cynthia and Michael decided on "house arrest." Erica was to stay home with Cynthia 24/7. She got her assignments from school, and the two studied Shakespeare and rested a lot.

"It actually was, in many ways, a really nice time," Cynthia recalls, wistfully.

In January, Erica returned to the charter arts school but was kicked out after 10 days for smoking pot (or for covering for a friend who was; to this day, Cynthia's not sure). They sent her to a stricter charter school, a K-12 with uniforms. Cynthia figured Erica would behave herself in front of little kids.

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1 comments
john
john

Kids have been dying at these things for decades.

Why didnt she bother to spend 5 minutes looking into their qualifiacations?

 
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