Alaska Native teen struggling with mental health issues is closer to coming home

Her parents have battled for daughter’s mental health treatment for years
Alaska Native teen struggling with mental health issues is closer to coming home
Published: Jul. 28, 2023 at 7:08 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - An Alaska Native teen is one step closer to coming home after struggling with mental health issues for years. It’s a problem that many young people face today, but now her parents may have finally found the treatment she needs.

Twilla Farrally and her family first shared their story publicly back in May. They explained how Twilla, 18, spent years battling mental illness.

Now, she has been accepted into a unique program that her family says looks very promising.

“It’s just a small house out where they are teaching the girls how to be part of the family,” Twilla’s mother Sonia Farrally, said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Alaska Natives and Native Americans are at highest risk for youth suicide, depression, and mental illness. The statistics hit close to home for Farrally — she has struggled for years to find the right treatment for her teen daughter.

During those years, Farrally sent her daughter to numerous doctors and therapists for help, but nothing seemed to work.

“She is Alaska Native and then we still can’t get into any of those programs that are Alaska Native-based,” Farrally said.

Farrally said officials running the programs told her they’re not properly staffed to handle the number of mental health issues that many Alaskans are currently facing.

“The wait list — because they just don’t have enough people,” Farrally said.

Twilla said in May 2023, when she was at the McLaughlin Youth Center, she too was disappointed by how difficult it was to find the help she needed.

“I just hoped that there would be like, a lot more facilities that would open,” Twilla said. “Or that they would start coming here, something like that.”

Twilla, who was born to alcoholic parents and diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome, was adopted as a baby.

“Fetal alcohol is a big thing because even though she’s of age — she’s 18 — mentally, she’s behind a couple years, usually about 15, 16 maybe,” her mother said.

By 2020, when Twilla was in her teens, and had been kicked out of high school. She was sent to a mental health facility in Texas for 11 months.

When she returned home, a violent episode landed her in a juvenile detention facility.

Now Twilla has been accepted into the Presbyterian Hospitality House in Wasilla, a small program for girls who need individualized treatment programs.

“They have ‘living parents’ or ‘teaching parents’ that live there 24/7,” Sonia said.

The program is centered around a merit system where teens are rewarded for proper behavior.

“They’re called teaching parents because they teach the girls like chores, cooking, how to clean up after themselves daily, hygiene habits that they have to do,” Sonia said. “They get points for taking showers every day, and how to do laundry. Just kind of like — just be a typical teen adult who can start doing these things on their own.”

The Farrallys think this may finally help Twilla to cope with the challenges she’s been dealing with throughout her life.

“I think they definitely know what they’re doing in helping get — to help develop those skills that the girls need, or that Twilla definitely would need,” Sonia said.

Twilla could be at the Presbyterian Hospitality House for up to a year. She’s still on probation and will continue to be until she’s released and allowed to go back home. Her parents say it’s up to her as to when that time will come.