A groundbreaking new therapy is helping kids and bringing families closer together. It was created here in Arkansas and it has already been credited with saving lives.

About one in five youths, ages 13-18, experience a severe mental disorder at some point during their lives, that’s according to the National Alliance of Mental Illness. Recognizing the warning signs is problematic enough for a parent, but finding help that really makes a difference for a child is another challenge.

A teenager from Harrison shared her personal mental health journey, recounting what her life was like after she was diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder, and how she came dangerously close to taking her own life.

“I was like this, this is it,” Hilary Mayes remembered.

Hilary Mayes seems like your average American teenage girl, and in many respects she is. She enjoys spending time with her friends, she enjoys putting wild colors in her hair and she was even a cheerleader. But something made her feel different when she was younger. She heard voices and saw shadows that frightened her at an early age.

As she got older, those voices told her to hurt herself and she eventually started cutting at the age of 12. When her parents discovered the cuts they were understandably scared and weren’t sure how to react.

“I was furious,” Hilary’s father Danny Mayes said. “I didn’t understand how she could do it.”

During Hilary’s freshman year of high school she informed her family she was committed to taking her own life before sophomore year. The Mayes knew the clock was ticking and needed to get help immediately. Unfortunately they had little success and quickly became jaded about therapists.

“They’re a joke,” Krystal Mayes said. ” We’re gonna’ pay 50 bucks for them to write down on a piece of paper and let us lay on a couch and come back the next day.”

Never one to sugarcoat things, Krystal Mayes said she was close to losing hope after trying out the coping skills therapists had recommended, creating a suicide plan and doing countless hours of research with next to no signs of change in Hilary’s behavior. Krystal remembers admitting the worst to her coworkers.

“I know this sounds harsh, but I will bury my daughter one day.” Krystal Mayes remembered telling her coworkers at a trying moment. “She will kill herself and I will bury my daughter one day and I truly believe that.

“I had accepted that. I wasn’t okay with it, but I believed that was gonna’ to happen.”

Hilary Mayes admitted she was dangerously close to ending it all. But her concern for the pain it would put her family through, particularly her younger sister Kylan whom she is very close to, was the only thing keeping her here on this earth.

“I would start thinking like, ‘Oh my goodness, my parents are gonna’ walk in here [and] what they’re gonna’ see is not what they’re gonna’ want to see,” Hilary recounted.

While the Mayes were losing hope, a new form of therapy, rooted here in Arkansas, was taking shape. Youth Bridge Regional Director Shawna Burns, is a mental health counselor at the forefront of a treatment she calls ‘Seed Digging.’

She looks at the problems children deal with in a unique way. Burns thinks of children like they are gardens. Each negative and positive experience, in their lives, is represented by a seed that’s planted.

“In that garden weeds and flowers grow,” Burns explained. “And so the weeds and flowers, they represent those actions — behavioral problems, the flowers represent things that children do that are fun and bring life to them.”

Burns believes the weeds eventually manifest themselves as problems in a child’s life in a variety of ways, including mental disorders like the ones affecting Hilary. Burns believes traditional mental health therapy models do a good job of teaching coping skills, but just coping isn’t enough. You have to dig deeper to eliminate the problems, or weeds, from ever coming back.

“If a child had a big thornbush in their garden,” Burns said. You may look at the thornbush and you could prune it back.

“You could cut the thorns off, the limbs off and you could slow the progression of the problem down. But, unfortunately, if you don’t get the thornbush out at the roots it’s going to come back.”

At the end of their rope, the Mayes would meet with Burns in October of 2014 in a last ditch effort to keep Hilary from committing suicide. Immediately they felt Burns was different from the other therapists.

“As soon as I shook her hand, I knew she was the one,” Danny Mayes remembered. “I knew she was the one. She was perfect.”

When asked if he needed Burns to be the one to help he responded, “Absolutely, [I] absolutely needed her [to be the one to help save Hilary] more than anything.”

During the first session with Burns Hilary says she felt an enormous weight lift from her, which she described as feeling like her chest opened up and let loose the demons that tormented her. She wondered if Burns noticed a change in her

Hilary Mayes explained, “I remember as soon as it happened, because I sat there and I actually thought in my head, ‘If this girl [Shawna Burns] is [for] real she’s gonna’ says something about that.’ And so I sat there and I opened my eyes and she said, ‘Did you feel that?'”

“I watched my child transform from session one,” Krystal Mayes says.

Danny Mayes added, “It saved our lives.”

More than three years later, Hilary is now a senior in high school, very happy and plans to go onto college to become a counselor like Burns. She is also sharing her story publicly to help others. As for her parents Danny and Krystal, they are simply delighted by the results.

“I could not be more proud of that child,” Danny Mayes said while wiping tears away. “She’s amazing, she really is.

“I tell her all the time how proud of her I am that to see her even thinking about having a future, from where she was, it’s amazing.”

“Seed Digging 1,000 percent saved Hilary’s life,” Krystal Mayes said.

Hilary Mayes and her family are happy to share that her diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder has been removed for nearly three years now. Burns continues her work with Youth Bridge and the counselors there and has written books about how Seed Digging works.

She has taught the therapy techniques to school counselors, mental health professionals, teachers, nurses and students in Northwest Arkansas and across the state. Burns will present Seed Digging at a national conference in June. You can learn more about it by clicking here.

The following is a poem Hilary Mayes wrote about her personal journey:

so what
if i like being happy,
more than being sad

the dark engulfed me whole
all of the sickness over flooded my blood & my soul

and now, my heart is content
half empty, half full

at this point, you should know, i am sick

i am in my room
i am bleeding
on the floor
i don’t want to be here anymore

at this point, you should hear
the screams, coming from the hall

at this moment, i have realized
i am done
i am not me
i am not her
i am not them
i am sick
i am helpless
i am gone

this morning i woke up
i could see the light
the way it hit my face, and covered my body.. was different

in this room, i cry myself to sleep
these people are not like me
i thought it was supposed to help?
up my medicine
let me out
i am FINE i don’t need HELP

when i saw you, you were helpless and sad
i begged you to be okay with me not being here anymore

i imagined
waking up,
making breakfast for 3
everyone happy, like they should be

don’t be sad
you’ll be alright
just look at the sky
i’m here at night

i’m still here,
i’m pushing
it’s damaging my brain

i want help now

i want out of these chains

my dear sweet friend
you have helped me so

my brain is clear now
i can do it on my own

i am not full, but i am here
and that’s all we wished for me

half empty, half full
please, just believe, you’ll see

– Hilary Mayes