What can a cozy sweatshirt, a journal for writing down one’s feelings, and fancy colored pencils do?
Can they make a kid smile? Can they bring a family together? Can they mend a heart? Can they ease a mind? Can they make a forgotten population feel seen and create hope?
Kansas City has 9 pediatric inpatient psychiatric facilities. These hard working facilities have been operating at capacity for the last 4 years. In 2023, as a way to respond to the new mental health crisis among tweens and teens, we piloted a new Mental Health Bags of Fun. The goal for these Bags was to offer hope and encouragement to a population who is often forgotten about due to the stigma behind psychiatric care. Providing mental health bags gives these tweens, teens, and adolescents the therapeutic power of play. This quote says it all:
“Getting my new bag of fun helped me to understand that someone cared about me when I didn’t think anyone did. I really like everything in it but my cozy sweatshirt makes me feel loved and my journal helps me to write my feelings.”
The Bags are tailored to the guidelines of each facility and the specific likes and hobbies of each recipient. For that reason each Bag is unique, but they often contain these four components:
Each Bag of Fun includes educational items that enhance cognitive development and items that promote self-reflection and self-expression to help with emotional development. Several kids appreciated the grown up quality of the art supplies as opposed to the children’s materials they are often provided. This small attention to detail makes them feel seen and their skills in art validated.
Each Bag of Fun contains one or two comfort items giving the recipient the chance for snuggles during a difficult time.
Many of these patients are removed from care and/or end up on the street after running away from their home, leaving a foster home, or aging out of the system. They often arrive at the facility after an emergency room stay with only the clothes on their back. For this reason, each Bag contains a hygiene kit and some new clothes.
Each Bag of Fun contains items that are “just plain silly,” giving each recipient the chance to experience the pure joy of being a child in the adult world of treatment. It has been proven that play can help a patient’s demeanor, outlook, and overall healing.
Giving the recipients something to do is a small thing that makes a big impact. When these Bags provide something for these teens to focus on that is interesting, new, and hopeful, it breeds a sense of normalcy that can be calming and help everyone come out of their shell. Many of the testimonials we received talk about how nice it was that the Bags provided an activity the young people can do with their parents. When the Bags provide an activity for the younger siblings as well, it can help in making the family visit last longer.
The facilities themselves love that we take the time to not only tailor the Bags to each recipient but also keep in mind the safety guidelines for each facility, so that nothing has to be removed from the Bag. This extra step makes the Bags a thoughtful and encouraging blessing to both the recipient and the staff.
“Our goal to cater to the patient’s interests is sometimes challenging when some items might not be safe for some children. With the bag, this has been a non issue as everything was selected specifically for the patient with safety in mind.”
Since the beginning of the year we have delivered 31 Bags to Crittenton Children’s Center and 30 Bags to Marillac. These local partners have made this possible:
- American Century Investments
- Boys Team Charity
- National Charity League
- Go Further Foundation
- Carl’s Crew
In 2023 we anticipate delivering 120 total Mental Health Bags. The sense of normalcy these Mental Health Bags bring can’t be overstated. For a moment these young people are not forgotten hospital residents, they are a 12 year old with a Squishmallow, a tween with cool colored pencils, a teenager with a new outfit, or a family with a game to play.
Bags of Fun wants to help families be encouraged and kids be kids, and one Bag at a time.