Easy To Love, Youth MOVE support children with mental, emotional disorders
FARMINGTON — While most children go through the so-called “terrible twos,” Lindsay Bartholomew suspected her daughter Emma had unique challenges that exacerbated the toddler’s behavior.
In addition to sometimes only sleeping two hours a night, Bartholomew said “her behavior was off and she wasn’t connecting with peers at preschool.”
As an infant, Emma struggled with medical challenges that became manageable by about age 2 1/2, but her behavioral issues caused Bartholomew to dig deeper and seek help. By age 3, Emma was diagnosed with anxiety.
“My daughter had horrible anxiety as a toddler,” Bartholomew said. “We did some genetic testing and found she was missing a piece of her fourth chromosome. That deletion explains the mental illness.”
While that knowledge gave her some relief and direction, her maternal challenges felt isolating at times.
“Raising special-needs children, you feel like you’re on an island with special rules,” Bartholomew said. “Your friends shrink away because they don’t understand.”
As a toddler, Emma was referred to The Children’s Center in Salt Lake City, where Bartholomew met Jennifer Levy, another struggling mother.
• Walk the Block: Hosted by Easy to Love-Utah. Saturday from 3 to 5 p.m. at Porter-Walton Park, 95 S. 400 West in Centerville. Olympic bobsledder and motivational speaker Jeremy C. Holm will share his personal insights about mental illness.
• Clearfield SibShop: Hosted by Easy to Love-Utah. Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon at Utah Behavior Services,189 S State St. #222 in Clearfield. SibShops are a chance for brothers and sisters of children with special needs to meet and share their experiences.
“Her son is on the autism spectrum. My daughter had medical trauma and behavioral issues. We connected in the lobby. It was a relief to find each other,” Bartholomew said.
Both women had looked for parent support groups, but found nothing. So in July 2011, they launched Easy to Love-Utah at the Day-Riverside branch of the Salt Lake City Library in Rose Park, later expanding into Centerville and Clearfield.
Now 8, Emma has made significant progress, Bartholomew said. She attends a supportive school and also taps into services at Matt’s Place in Centerville, a nonprofit that helps families and individuals with social and behavioral struggles.
Bartholomew describes Emma as “an amazing, sassy spunky 8-year-old little girl,” who enjoys Pokemon and American Girl dolls.
“She enjoys playing with other kids, but it requires a little more adult support,” Bartholomew said. At times, she’ll bite her nails, pull her hair, and act out “so people think she’s naughty,” Bartholomew said, but some behavior comes because Emma is trying to control her environment due to anxiety.
“I’m still learning what to do. There are some things I let her control as a comfort to her,” Bartholomew said. “I’m her security blanket and she knows she can come to me for comfort. We use medication as well, which has helped her have a better quality of life.”
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert recently declared May 1-7 as Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week, recognizing about one in five children and youth suffer from serious emotional or mental disorders that impact daily living.
May is also national Mental Health Month, and Utah’s chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, NAMI Utah, offers valuable resources and support for individuals grappling with mental illnesses. Their Youth MOVE Utah aims to train and empower young adults ages 16 to 26 and dispel the stigma surrounding mental illness. MOVE stands for Motivating Others through Voices of Experience.
American Fork resident Macey Arnold said she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 17. That brought some relief and stabilization through medication and therapy, but her journey into adulthood has been anything but smooth. Now 24, Arnold said she joined Youth MOVE in 2010.
“It’s been a roller coaster with me, but there are some good aspects of the illness where you have the motivation and the charge to get things done, to reach your goals,” Arnold said. “But then you drop down . . . and those depressions are deep. There was a time I suffered from PTSD due to domestic abuse as a child and the passing of my mother. So it was a mix of bipolar, PTSD and grief.”
She credits therapy and the help and support of people with helping her clear those hurdles. And in Youth MOVE, she said “we can relate to each other.” Her future goals include owning a bakery, and teaching art or sign language.
Taylorsville resident Amanda Messerly, now 24, has been involved with Youth MOVE for about eight months. Her extreme anxiety started at age 12 but she was officially diagnosed at age 16.
“I started getting really depressed and isolating, withdrawing from friends,” Messerly said. While her anxiety grew so intense that it was difficult to go to school, Messerly said she was also a perfectionist, “so I had to get good grades and do everything perfectly.”
During that time, Messerly said she started self-harming and making suicide attempts. By the time she was 16, a neighbor recommended she get help and her parents enrolled her in a treatment program.
“I was not really open to accepting help and changing my life. I’d do really good for awhile and then go backwards into old behaviors,” Messerly said, describing it as a “bungee cord of problems that happen.”
But as a teen, Messerly said she managed to hide that part of her life pretty well.
“I would put on the “I’m fine” face and not let people in. But when I was 19 or 20, people started to see how depressed I really was,” Messerly said. “I had gotten to the point where I wasn’t going to put that mask on anymore . . . it was very tiring to do because inside you’re screaming.”
But now through a combination of medication, therapy and support, Messerly’s life has stabilized and she’s back in college. She enjoys participating with Youth MOVE on a panel that visits area schools, and her goal is to get her doctorate in Psychology.
“It’s very meaningful to give back. If I can share my story and be vulnerable, and it helps someone else, it’s worth it,” Messerly said.