Watch: Waiting for Tearah Spotlights How Our Children Are Languishing in Mental Health Facilities Far From Home

Illustration for article titled Watch: Waiting for Tearah Spotlights How Our Children Are Languishing in Mental Health Facilities Far From Home

To honor Mental Illness Awareness Week (Oct. 6-12) , Frontline PBS and Firelight Media have partnered with The Root to bring you Waiting for Tearah, a short documentary by Juliana Schatz Preston.


Waiting for Tearah tells the story of one African-American family’s struggle to navigate America’s dysfunctional mental healthcare system. Tearah, then 16 years old and dysregulated, languished in a psychiatric emergency room for months. She was then transferred to another psych facility in another state more than 90 miles away from her home in Hartford, Conn., where there was a perfectly suitable place to meet her needs.

As with most things in healthcare, it comes down to money and who would pay.

On Wednesday, The Root will talk to Shayna Wilson, Tearah’s mother, as well as Preston, the inaugural recipient of the Frontline/Firelight Investigative Journalism Fellowship, which aims to address the need for more diverse perspectives and experiences within the field of investigative journalism.

Until then, please watch Waiting for Tearah and share your thoughts below.

Ms. Bronner Helm is the Senior Editorial Director at Colorlines. Mouthy Black Girl. Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Fellow. Shea Butter Feminist. Virgo Sun, Aries Moon.



My information is out of date but I have first hand experience in mental health facilities in Connecticut. I cannot watch that movie because it will hurt too much. The word triggered gets thrown around a lot. To me, it means a day of misery while my anxiety spikes and I can’t get away from it and want to crawl out of my skin. It is not helpful that my name is very similar to this girls. So instead, I will share my experience.

I am 40 now. I was 10 when we moved to CT so my mother could go to school. I was already pretty fragile, having had a suicide attempt and an inpatient stay already. I was severely bullied. By classmates, by my bus driver, by my teacher. My mother swears up and down that teacher was moved to admin in part because of this but that may have been another lie. I don’t know.

I spent four months in Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital. During my stay my grandfather died, my abuser sent me a dozen red roses (which nobody thought was inappropriate!), and we were regularly punished for behaving like children. I had a 24 hour pass and when I got back I stuffed some balled up socks in my shirt and told my neighbor I got a boob job on my pass. Ha ha. We were both confined to our rooms for a day for that joke. I listened daily to this boy with anorexia scream while they force fed him or reinserted his feeding tube.

When I was deemed ready to leave it was to go to one of two schools that integrated therapy in their programs. I wanted to go to the place that offered (very small) financial incentives. $5/week for completing schoolwork was a dream to me. We were poor af. Instead I went to Elmcrest, my mother’s choice.

We didn’t have busses, we had vans and station wagons. My regular driver allowed us (ages 8 to 15ish) to smoke on the drive home! And I got hit by a car once because he parked across from my apartment complex and didn’t pull in like he was supposed to. Anyway.

When I was 33 and broke away from my family and was facing a lot of unpleasant truths I was tempted to write to my therapist at Elmcrest. Ask her why when I made an outcry she allowed my mother to derail the conversation. Ask her why I didn’t get treated to the best of her abilities. I found a fucking haunted house blog that listed the now closed Elmcrest. A few years after I left, they killed a kid. I think by restraining him poorly.

That’s what mental health care was like for poor children in CT 30 years ago. I assume absolutely nothing has changed. This is also one of the big reasons why as an adult I live with untreated PTSD, anxiety and depression. Can’t fucking trust em.

My heart goes out to Tearah and her family. It’s a fucked up system and it’s never going to be a priority for anyone in a position to fix it.