MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- One in five kids are diagnosed with a mental illness every year. And experts say the pandemic has only made things worse.
A Twin Cities family hopes to make the holidays a little brighter for kids battling mental health issues in the hospital.
"If you've ever felt that feeling, it's just bigger," Anna said.
Anna's parents hope to protect their daughter's identity by not showing her on camera as she talks about her panic attacks, and looks back on a difficult year.
"It came out of the blue. It was something our family hasn't experienced before. Anna has no preexisting mental health issues," said mother Kristin Rehkamp.
It was her 11-year wellness checkup that sent Anna into a fit last fall, with dizziness, lingering numbness and severe depression.
"Our daughter went from attending school, dancing, to in a hospital within two weeks," Kristin said.
The Rehkamps turned to the emergency room and struggled to connect with a counselor, eventually finding an open bed at PraireCare, a child and adolescent psychiatric hospital in Brooklyn Park.
"It is not about the people or intent. Fantastic people. But it's just an extremely hard system to navigate," Kristin said.
But what stayed with Anna were the empty rooms, kept that way for safety reasons.
"I noticed that lots of kids didn't have anything from their parents or anything," Anna said.
It became the motivation behind Demdeco's Giving Bear transformed to the Prairie Bear. The Rehkamps raised enough money so all kids at the hospital will have one in time for the holidays.
"We felt it was really important that every child have a bear waiting for them on their bed. A friend," Kristin said.
Each bear comes with a personal note from Anna that ends with this thought: "Truly believe how special you are and the amazing things you will do."
Medication and exposure therapy are helping Anna get better day-by-day.
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