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Keep Fighting

Riley kid Elise Louden

Elise’s Journey at Riley Behavioral Health

“She didn’t treat us like we were fragile. She wasn’t walking on eggshells.”

That’s how 18-year-old Elise Louden describes Riley Child Life Specialist Taylor Cox, who led group activities during Elise’s stay in the Simon Skjodt Pediatric and Adolescent Behavioral Health Unit - Indiana’s only dialectical behavior therapy-informed child and adolescent psychiatric inpatient unit.

Sessions with Child Life and Art Therapy were highlights that made Elise’s tough journey notably brighter. “It was literally the highlight of my week,” she says.

Elise had been through several inpatient and outpatient mental health programs when she arrived at Riley Children's Health after a suicide attempt in 2021. A bumpy road with high school friendships had taken a harsh toll. “I started to spiral within my head,” Elise shares. “I already had very low self esteem, and over time I drilled those thoughts into my brain - ‘You’re not good enough, you don’t deserve this.’”

She says the staff at Riley Children’s felt different from other places where she had been. During her three-and-a-half week stay, she received care from Riley Child Life Specialists, Art Therapy, counselors, physicians who helped get her stabilized, and the nursing team, whose compassion was a game changer. Elise remembers one nurse in particular. “On my hardest nights, she would sit with me while I cried,” Elise says. “She told me I was safe and that no one was going to hurt me. She would sit in the doorway of my room late at night and talk to me until I felt safe enough to fall asleep.”

Through Child Life activities led by Cox, Elise worked on building coping and emotional regulation skills, from creating a DIY stress ball, to listing techniques that help her most when she is struggling. “Elise was confidently able to identify the coping strategies that work best for her, which included coloring, talking about her feelings with those she trusts, and listening to music,” says Cox.

Riley kid Elise Louden and Child Life Specialist Taylor Cox

Today, Elise is continuing her mental health treatment journey on an outpatient basis. She is getting ready to begin classes at Butler University this fall, and dreaming of a future as an elementary school teacher. “I think that’s the foundation of who the person is becoming and the foundation of who they become in this world,” she says. “I want to help bring more good people to this world.”

Elise wants others to understand the difference they can make by donating to places like Riley. “Programs like the one at Riley can give adolescents hope and show them that people are rooting for them, even if they don’t know it,” she says. “Donating helps create a safe environment for each individual to establish a foundation of self-love and find their support systems.”

She has also become an advocate for mental health awareness, something Cox says Elise should be proud of. “I feel that one of the most powerful things one can do is be open and honest about their own challenges and ongoing journey toward self-love and acceptance,” says Cox. “By sharing her story, Elise has opened the door for other children and teenagers to identify with her experience and find hope and help exactly where they are at in their own journey.”