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Mental Health

Mental Health Journey Leads to Career of Helping Others

The pressure of her senior year of college was weighing on Michaela and after a sleepless night spent nervously pacing, Michaela contacted her therapist for counsel on how to manage her emotions. Her therapist referred her to the Scrivner Center for Mental Health & Addiction Services at El Camino Health for help. This was a turning point for Michaela, as she finally learned there was a name for her condition: type 1 bipolar disorder, also known as manic depressive disorder.

“I was scared when I first got my diagnosis,” says Michaela. “It was hard to understand the difference between my disorder and what was Michaela. Now I have an understanding of who I am – a person with a really big heart with a whole lot of feelings.”

Michaela describes herself as a high energy, task-oriented person. Since high school, she has had her share of highs and lows that presented challenges. During her senior year of college in 2016, she started feeling the stress of graduation, getting a job and becoming an adult and, by spring semester, she was in a deep depression and hardly attending class.

After receiving initial treatment through inpatient psychiatric care, Michaela transitioned to El Camino Health’s ASPIRE Transitional Age Youth (TAY) program. This twelve-week intensive outpatient program is designed specifically for young adults between the ages of 18 and 25. Participants meet four days a week and learn skills to help them effectively manage feelings of depression and anxiety in a healthy way. Parents or support persons are encouraged to accompany participants to learn a common and supportive language and to participate in the process.

“My parents were very dedicated to understanding what was going on with me,” explains Michaela.

They would drive over an hour from Monterey to El Camino Health’s Los Gatos campus every week to attend the program and have dinner with her after each session. They also checked in with her nightly to see how she was doing.

“TAY helped me learn how to advocate for myself and in general, set me up for success,” explains Michaela.

She felt empowered and was surrounded by people who were in similar situations with the same struggles. That sense of community created by attending TAY was very beneficial and armed her with new information.

During her hospitalization at El Camino Health, a friend visited her with a service dog and a nurse suggested that a psychiatric alert dog could be very helpful to Michaela.

Michaela started researching service dogs and within a short period of time, she was matched with Niko, a beautiful English cream golden retriever. Niko is trained to alert to her body language if she exhibits signs of mania or becomes depressed. She will bring Michaela’s phone to her so she can get help and nudge Michaela with her nose when she senses a change in her mood.

“Niko offers me a sense of security and a reason to get out of the house every day,” explains Michaela.

Michaela credits her TAY therapy team for introducing her to occupational therapy, a key component of the program. In May of 2021, she will receive her master’s degree from the University of Southern California Chan Division of Occupational Service and Occupational Therapy. Her hope is to now share her story with other young adults struggling with a mental health condition. Not only did she gain a better understanding of her condition and a sense of empowerment through her experience at TAY, but she also found her career path.

“I am forever indebted to TAY for helping me find my purpose in life,” says Michaela.

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