Family finds refuge during mental health crisis


By Kortney Scroger

As the only deaf child in a small Alaskan town, Anja McKinney had a habit of keeping to herself. She was always reading and her favorite place to visit was the library. She was a fun-loving middle schooler who was eager to learn.

At the age of 13, Anja began to struggle with mental health issues. Some days it was manageable, others it was extremely challenging. After a month of delusions and paranoia, she and her family reached their breaking point.

“Despite the sleepy teas, melatonin, essential oils and anything else we could think of, Anja went five days without sleeping,” says her mother Jemima McKinney. “She began having morbid and violent delusions that she never really snapped out of.”

When Anja became violent, Jemima decided that it was time to seek professional help. Unfortunately, none of the behavioral health facilities in their area fit Anja’s needs, which brought the McKinney family all the way from their home in Alaska to the Adolescent Behavioral Health Unit (ABHU) at MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital.

Opened in 2016, the ABHU is the first and only inpatient program in Pierce County designed specifically to help teens facing mental health crises. The unit treats children ages 13 to 17 for a variety of mental health issues including major depression, anxiety disorders, psychosis, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Anja and her family made their first trip to the ABHU in March 2018. They came back for another longer stay in April. While they were hundreds of miles from home, the McKinney family found comfort at Tree House: A Place for Families while Anja received the treatment that she needed.

Tree House offers on-campus housing for families whose loved ones are in the hospital. Because it’s funded primarily by donors, stays are little to no cost for families. The facility is designed to support each family with a private room to sleep in and communal spaces to cook and do laundry. In 2017 alone, Tree House housed more than 600 families.

“Tree House is awesome because it’s right next door,” Jemima says. “I was able to visit Anja whenever she needed me. When they are here, families have other things going on. It really helps that you don’t have to deal with the small things like a bed and food. After spending a whole day dealing with a sick loved one, it is reassuring knowing you have somewhere to lay your head.”

Support from both Tree House and the ABHU provided welcome reprieve not just for Anja, but for her parents as well.

“They help the whole family,” Jemima says. “The nurses knew that I needed a break too. The services offered are a big help not only for the kids dealing with issues, but for the rest of the family who has to deal with things too.”

Now, months after treatment, Anja is happy and healthy. The McKinney family recently moved to North Carolina where Anja is now attending a school for the deaf and flourishing.

“My daughter is back with me,” Jemima says. “My real daughter, the girl I haven’t seen in two months. A girl who smiles a lot and likes to make other people laugh. A girl who loves to learn.

“I know the road ahead still has a lot of potholes. I don’t know where this journey will end, but thanks to the help we received, I know that there is hope.”


Tree House is a safe haven for out-of-town families during a medical crisis. Donor contributions help with a variety of services that are offered at little to no cost. 

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