Melaina Uhrig, age 19, has always been a singer. She enjoyed it so much that she joined her church choir and later, the Summit Choral Society children’s choir program. Being in front of and among people never bothered Melaina until she started high school. That’s when she lost joy in almost everything that previously gave her pleasure.
It started slowly before snowballing into a fear so great that she couldn’t walk the hallways of her high school without being overcome with panic attacks.
“I was a freshman in a high school of 1,200 students,” said Melaina, a Kent State University student majoring in music education. “At school, I went to my first period class, which is when the school took attendance for the day. I attended my second period class, but by third period, I fell apart.”
The bell rang and Melaina started walking to biology, a class that required navigating a long hallway and stairs where she encountered hundreds of students. Before long, her heart pounded and a paralyzing fear gripped her. She quickly ducked into a bathroom, hid in a stall and rode out the awful panic attack that engulfed her.
“What is going on in my brain”
These panic attacks lasted 10 to 30 minutes and left her feeling rattled afterwards. Often, it took her 30 minutes to an hour to calm down. Only then, was she able to go stand in front of the classroom of her next class to avoid the crowds. Usually, she only missed biology, but sometimes she missed other classes, too.
Melaina became depressed and started having self-harm and suicide ideation thoughts.
“I asked myself, ‘What is going on in my brain?’ and felt very alone, as if no one else ever felt like this,” she said. “I was so afraid of my parents finding out.”
The call from Melaina’s high school to her parents eventually came, however. The school administrators were supportive and paired Melaina with a guidance counselor, whom she grew to trust. It was the counselor who recommended seeking help from Akron Children’s Lois and John Orr Family Behavioral Health Center.
Getting behavioral health services
Melaina first went to Akron Children’s pediatric psychiatry & psychology where she was diagnosed with panic disorder, agoraphobia and social anxiety. Since Melaina’s symptoms were severe, she sought help through Akron Children’s Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) on the Akron campus.
Melaina’s mom drove her to PHP for sessions that lasted from 8 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. Melaina, along with other teens ages 12 to 18, received individual and group therapy, participated in art and music therapy and learned coping skills.
“I liked cognitive behavioral therapy the best,” she said. “It gave me skills I could use in the real world, improved my mood and broke my negative thought patterns.”
It took Melaina awhile to figure out what triggered her panic attacks. In fact, two weeks into PHP, she hit a rough patch and was admitted into inpatient psychiatric care for three days.
“They readjusted my medication. After that, I was able to return to PHP for another 10 days and graduate in the marble ceremony,” she said. “The six of us graduating each received a marble. The other people said how I helped them. My PHP therapist, Courtney Hout, also gave me a note of encouragement. I definitely cried a lot.”
Finding joy in life
It’s been six years since Melaina had a panic attack, which she credits to the mental health skills she learned. She continues to receive behavioral health services so that she can stay on top of her mental health issues. Melaina, who lives in Kent, Ohio, sees a local psychologist for individual counseling. She also sees Andrea Nelson, Akron Children’s mental health nurse practitioner, every six months.
Someday, Melaina hopes to work in a school system where she anticipates she will encounter kids who might be experiencing what she went through. It’s why she feels that sharing her story might be helpful to others who are struggling with their mental health.
“If one of my friends was finding it hard to function every day, I’d want them to know it’s always a better option to reach out and get help instead of trying to figure it all out themselves,” she said.