Change and uncertainty of what the future will bring are two aspects of life that everyone experiences, no matter age. We all lack a “crystal ball” to predict and possibly avoid the inevitable life events that will have a lifetime impact. Some of these occurrences will be joyful and forever associated with happy memories and a feeling of euphoria. Unfortunately other life events will be accompanied by sadness, frustration, a feeling of helplessness, anger, or jealousy. More serious life occurrences will be associated with grieving, trauma, severe depression, or thoughts of harm to self or others.
Coping mechanisms for children and adolescents dealing with a grieving situation are limited due to their puberty-determined growth, various levels of maturity, and sometimes developmental delays that may result in a lag behind their chronological age. A child or adolescent’s response to a traumatic situation that merits grieving, is both limited and complex since emotions and thought processes are more linear than with adults.
The death of a parent, sibling, other relative, traumatic death of a friend or even a beloved pet, can bring forth a grief response that a child or adolescent might not have experienced previously and are emotionally unequipped to deal with. Or a challenging life event such as a parents divorce, a new school, bullying, or the impact of the country’s economic downturn through foreclosure of the family’s home or job loss by parent, can be equally as impactful and grief-laden.
Sometimes through the support, love and understanding of family and peers, a child or adolescent can rebound from a traumatic event. However, other youth will be more severely impacted, requiring the need for counseling, possible short-term mood-stabilizing medications, or the potential for acute or crisis intervention, through in-patient psychiatric care.
Pomegranate’s ten-bed Acute Unit opened in 2010 specifically to address these emergency situations, and to stabilize the patient in a safe, therapeutic environment. Our intervention targets the crisis event and the unit’s staff determines the most beneficial course of treatment so that the patient can return to a productive and less distressed life. The Acute Unit focuses the therapy using expressive arts, group and individual counseling sessions, and also family counseling to further clarify the goals for treatment, to monitor the patient’s progress, and avoid a re-occurrence of the problematic event.
Approximately 5,000 youth in theUnited States die by suicide annually, often due to major depression, bi-polar issues, or unresolved grief from a gamut of life altering events. This makes suicide the third leading cause of death for those ages 15-24. Often the warning signs are ignored and professional intervention does not occur when needed.
Warning signs that a child or teenager might need mental health assessment include: extended isolation, lack of appetite, sleeping in excess, loss of interest in school activities or academics, giving away prized possessions, and finally but most importantly, talking about ending their life or doing harm to others. Should this occur, immediately, the child or adolescent should be transported to a local hospital’s Emergency Room, mental health facility, or by calling 911.
Threats of self-harm or violence towards others always should be taken seriously, especially since impulsivity is a trait more common when younger-especially when a friend has died unexpectedly, leading to “copycat” deaths. Also there is an incorrect assumption of invincibility especially by teenagers. It is better to over-react by notifying authorities versus an ignored suicidal or homicidal threat not being taken seriously with dire life-ending consequences.
During an Acute Unit admission, the patient usually is with Pomegranate for approximately one week. The transformation of seeing a patient in crisis upon arrival and having them discharged with enhanced coping skills and feeling confident about their future, is rewarding after just one week on the Acute Unit. Helping adolescents successfully navigate a crisis and reach adulthood is another example of how Pomegranate Cares.
[Girl photo from Wikimedia Commons, creative commons license 2.0.]
Editor note: Guest blog by Mariann M. Main, MS, LPC. Main now writes a counseling column for the Delaware Ohio Gazette]