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Help when it's needed most: One mother's journey in search of mental health support

Updated: Sep 26, 2019

Ryley Leganchuk recently graduated high school with honours. He’s won leadership awards. He’s coached 12-year-olds in football. And now he has dreams of teaching elementary school kids.

It’s a bright future and a new page that closes out the darkest chapter in his family’s life.

Ryley was just a boy when his mother, Micah, spotted warning signs. He said things that reflected an anguish beneath the surface, things a five-year-old boy shouldn’t be feeling or saying. It frightened his mom.

"We were desperate for help."

“While at the time we had no idea that children could suffer from depression, we knew it wasn’t just an attention-seeking phase,” she recalls. “We sought counseling, read parenting books, spoke with doctors, teachers – anything we could think of to help our son. While we frantically looked for answers, things continued to get worse.

“We were desperate for help. I was heartbroken watching my son suffering and not being able to do anything to take his pain away.”

Ryley was nine years old when he first attempted to end his own life.

Finding support at the Alberta Children's Hospital

It was a devastating time for the family, who found the support Ryley needed at the Alberta Children’s Hospital where he was admitted into the Mental Health Unit. It meant handing over care of their son at a time when they just wanted to be with him.

“Despite how wonderful the doctors and nurses were, I would cry when I had to leave him and longed to take him home with us. I knew what we were doing was the right thing, but it was the hardest thing we ever had to do,” Micah recalls.

His time at the Alberta Children’s Hospital allowed Ryley to learn new coping skills and new tools to handle tough situations. At the same time, his family discovered new insights into Ryley’s condition, which was the result of biological factors and not something his parents did or didn’t do.

His condition improved, and then it declined again. Ryley continued to endure feelings of hopelessness and despondency and would go on to act on those feelings two more times.

“Like 50% of children with mental health conditions, current therapies had limited effect on him,” says Micah. “Despite the coping skills he learned, his struggles continued, and we as a family lived on eggshells.”

The break in the clouds came when Ryley was 14. He took the opportunity to participate in research around non-invasive brain stimulation for teens with depression, one of many studies the Alberta Children’s Hospital has conducted to improve the lives of kids.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, or TMS, alters the level of activity in a section of the brain that regulates emotion, attention span and the ability to organize, plan and function as a responsible adult.

Every weekday for three weeks, Ryley went to the donor-funded TMS lab to watch his favourite episodes of The Simpsons while the team sent magnetic waves into his brain.

“Over the next few months, we started seeing a change in our son. He went from having two weeks of bad days to maybe one bad day a month,” says Micah.

Ryley was able to keep up his studies while undergoing treatment thanks to the Gordon Townsend School. It’s a CBE school in the hospital that keeps their noses in books while they have outpatient care and therapy.

He embraced life again. The troubling phone calls Micah used to receive from school officials were replaced by updates saying what a joy Ryley was to have in class. He began coaching kids in football, and he became a mentor to others.

“Some parents of the kids he coaches have told us how much Ryley has made a difference in their children, including with their own mental health issues.”

Like many of us, Ryley still has good days and bad days. Thankfully the bad days are fewer and further between, and Micah credits the support and care he received from the Alberta Children’s Hospital.

With support from the community, the Centre for Child & Adolescent Mental Health will pull together all the best components of Alberta Children’s Hospital care and research and put it under one roof that will be wholly dedicated to helping kids and families before mental health challenges escalate into crises that require hospitalization.

There is a critical need for more specialized mental health services for children in our community, and the Centre for Child & Adolescent Mental Health will be there for kids who need it, when they need it, so more families can have brighter futures, just like the Leganchuks.

“Our son wouldn’t be where he is today without the Alberta Children’s Hospital and our community rallying behind it.”

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