Western Youth Services works hard to protect the privacy of the children we help. As such, the names and images of our clients are changed where necessary. Thank you for understanding.
Youth coping with mental health and wellness disorders struggle with everyday life – attending school, making friends, avoiding threats, connecting with their families, holding hope for their futures and more. To understand how WYS helps these children and teens, read on to learn their stories.
1. Maria: From Self-Limiting to Self-Aware
All 15-year-old Maria knew was that she felt depressed and unmotivated. Hoping to bury her hurt, she retreated, withdrawing from activities with family and friends – or lashing out verbally in a struggle to communicate her seemingly inarticulate feelings. Her poor performance academically only added to her challenges.
And then her mother found WYS through word of mouth.
After eight months of treatment with a mental health professional from WYS, she learned to identify the triggers causing her depression and anger as well as coping skills to address these emotions. Maria says this newfound feeling of self-control is freeing. She reports an overall improvement in mood. As evidence, she no longer spends hours alone in her room. She re-engaged socially and is thriving academically, jumping up an entire grade in most subjects. With the tools she learned at WYS and her own determination, Maria is planning for her future after high school and beyond.
2. Josh and Mark: Brother vs. Brother
Sibling rivalry, it’s as old as the family unit itself. And whether competing for toys or attention, the continual bickering, jealousy and sometimes even aggression can become disruptive and even unhealthy. Although sibling rivalry is normal, it needs addressing at escalated levels. WYS is experienced in bringing families back together.
When Josh and Mark, a 6- and 8-year-old set of siblings, came to WYS, they fought bitterly. They competed for their mother’s attention, animosity pitted one against the other. Through treatment with our supportive counselors, Josh and Mark learned how to trust one another and recognize their mother’s love encompassed them both. Everyday squabbles are normal between siblings but Josh and Mark no longer fight as rivals. Instead, they can be found playing together during recess and might even be overheard paying compliments to one another. Their mother learned new strategies to minimize competition for her attention and encourage the boys toward their individual interests. WYS unearthed their unique and different talents and skills, allowing Josh and Mark to distinguish themselves as individuals.
3. Matt and his Grandmother: Raising Children Again
Kinship care – a term often used when grandparents step in to raise their grandchildren – is a complex relationship with a unique set of challenges for all family members. It’s a growing phenomenon across the country, with more than 2.5 million grandparents taking on responsibility for the youth in their family, according to AARP (American Association of Retired Persons). Grandparents often find themselves in this role because their own children may be incarcerated, dealing with drug and/or alcohol addiction, struggling with mental illness or otherwise unavailable to parent their children. Even though most grandparents feel their grandchildren fare better being raised by a family member, tension, resentment and desperation commonly arise from the stress and unexpected demands placed upon them by necessity.
Matt and his grandmother typify the conundrum of such relationships. Because of his mother’s drug addiction, Matt was sent to live with his grandmother. When WYS met Matt, he was angry, lost, and depressed. His grandmother struggled with her own range of feelings and doubts about her ability to rear another generation.
A WYS mental health professional worked with Matt to help make sense of the turmoil, while his grandmother joined our Caregiver’s Group to learn parenting skills and gain support from other people, like her, in kinship care roles.
As a result of what they learned, Matt says he feels more loved and cared for by his grandmother. Since setting boundaries with him and employing other techniques, his grandmother is enjoying Matt’s more positive attitude toward her. She found ways to reduce her fear that she might create a similar outcome of her adult child in Matt, finding new confidence in her ability to parent. This allowed her to experience the joy of being a grandparent.
4. Angie: Learning to Live and Love, after Abuse
At a time of life when most of her peers were looking forward to school dances or planning college, 15-year-old Angie was escaping a lifetime of abuse. Angie was removed from her mother’s care because of neglect and failure to protect her daughter.
Angie toiled enormously. She wanted to give up. She couldn’t see past the trauma to imagine a stable future or an environment where she felt like she belonged.
WYS began providing Angie treatment when she was experiencing depression so deep she considered suicide. Through this intervention, Angie discovered her own reasons to live and ways to create her future. Now 18, Angie lives in another state and is involved in a committed relationship. She now has access to an entirely new life, with happiness as an option.
Daniel was referred to WYS after getting kicked out of preschool. His mother said she didn’t know how to parent him. Daniel was oppositional, defiant and aggressive. It was recommended that Daniel and his mother participate in Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT). Daniel’s mother was skeptical and expressed that Daniel was the one that needed help and therapy, not her and she didn’t want to learn any new parenting skills. The newly certified therapist was nervous but gently explained the process and encouraged Daniel’s mother to consider, which she eventually did two weeks later when Daniel become so aggressive that he seriously injured another child.
During 16 weeks of treatment, Daniel’s mother learned many new parenting skills that she reports she had “never considered.” She is now able to offer Daniel choices, reinforce him properly, be consistent and also model effective ways of relating to others. Daniel and his mother officially “graduated” from PCIT and with tears in her eyes, his mother stated “I never thought I could be a good parent or have a loving relationship with my child. I thought parenting was yelling and punishing.” When asked how life was better for him, Daniel thought for a moment and even though he was just 5 years old, relayed “I wake up with a smile every day and I’m excited about my day. And the best is that I go to bed every night with an even bigger smile on my face because every day is a good day now.”
Savannah came to Western Youth Services after she was placed in foster care due to domestic violence. At 6 years old, she didn’t have the words to describe what she was feeling inside and didn’t understand why she couldn’t be with her mother and siblings. Savannah’s foster mother reported that she cried most of the day, would curl into a ball and scream anytime someone came near her and didn’t sleep. At first, Savannah refused to participate in therapy but her therapist didn’t give up. Every week, her therapist provided Savannah with a safe place to begin identifying and expressing her feelings. Over time, Savannah began to verbalize her thoughts and feelings and at the age of 7, for the first time, she disclosed to her therapist the physical and sexual abuse she had suffered at the hands of her mother’s boyfriend since the age of 2. Savannah received therapy for the next year where she learned coping skills, how to manage her anxiety and prepared for the very difficult task of testifying against her abuser.
Savannah’s therapist was able to sit in the courtroom with her on the day she testified. She watched a tiny little girl sit in a big chair and talk into a microphone that was far too large for a child. Savannah was able to state the facts as she remembered them and held her head up high, looking into the face of her abuser. It was at that moment, her therapist knew Savannah had truly taken control of her own life and feelings.
Savannah is now 11 years old and in middle school. She started a group last year for kids who are bullied and will be the upcoming class president. In her campaign speech, she stated her goal in life is to “help those who are unable to do so for themselves, just like I was helped all of those years ago; someone saved my life and now I’m going to do the same.”
Savannah plans on becoming a clinical psychologist and working with childhood survivors of abuse.
By the time Pamela was 16 years old, she was running the streets and refusing to be home. Her mother had given up and stopped trying. With no means of transportation, she wouldn’t be able to get Pamela mental health services anyway. This was until she was able to secure Therapeutic Behavioral Services (TBS).
Pamela had a difficult time believing someone could help her, she had given up on herself. She had also given up on everyone else. She was already failing in school and her physical health was declining. Every day she thought about killing herself. After not showing up twice when her TBS coach came to see her, Pamela was surprised when her coach found her in a nearby park. Pamela agreed to sit down with her.
One and a half years later, Pamela’s mother could be seen with tears streaming down her cheeks, cheering wildly at the school’s graduation ceremony as Pamela received her high school diploma. Pamela would be the first one in the family to attend a university. She plans to study social work and states she “will never give up again, not on myself or anyone else.”
Karla felt like everyone was angry with her – her parents, teachers, even her soccer coach. She tried to pay attention. She tried to sit quietly in class. Karla began feeling worthless, like she couldn’t do anything right, she was always getting in trouble.
After being assessed by the school psychologist and her pediatrician, she was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Her parents brought her to Western Youth Services.
The Western Youth Services professional consulted with the school psychologist and pediatrician, went to the school to observe Karla in the classroom, talked to her teachers, and gathered as much information to get a full picture of Karla’s behavior at home, at school and in other situations.
Karla didn’t know what ADHD meant. Was something really wrong with her? At Western Youth Services, she began participating in a weekly group. There, she met other kids who felt the same way she did! They learned to support each other while learning different skills, like relaxation techniques, and exercises to build the ability to monitor and control her behavior, emotions, and thoughts. Along with the other children in the group, Karla learned how to manage her behavior, feelings and thoughts in social situations.
Karla practiced these exercises when she was in school and at home. Karla was excited, she felt like, for the first time, she was getting praised! She was proud of herself, that she able to follow directions and really listen. Her grades went from Cs and Ds to As and Bs. Though she learned how to focus much better, more importantly, she learned that she is a worthy, valuable person. As she graduated from middle school, Karla proudly accepted her honors’ award and is looking forward to high school and taking some advanced courses.
“You don’t look like you have mental issues.” Jeremy didn’t know how to respond. His friend was right. Jeremy looked like a typical, happy adolescent. He earned good grades, played sports and followed the rules. No one ever thought anything was wrong. That is until Jeremy made a serious suicide attempt. He just wanted to die but didn’t know why. Life had become too painful. But nothing bad had ever happened to Jeremy, so why was he so unhappy?
After getting out of the hospital, Jeremy felt lost. He was referred to and began receiving therapy at Western Youth Services. He didn’t know what to talk about. He said he had good parents, a nice home and lots of friends. But Jeremy slowly began talking to his therapist about his feelings of worthlessness and how he had always felt anxious and worried. Jeremy learned that these feelings contributed to depression, something he didn’t know anything about. Over time, he learned that it’s not always life circumstances that make people depressed and anxious. Sometimes, people just feel that way.
Jeremy is now able to identify his feelings. He has learned coping strategies for when he feels anxious, sad and hopeless. His family knows the warning signs. Jeremy learned that there is nothing shameful about mental illness or taking medication to help. He started volunteering for a community agency to help educate high school students about mental illness, where to go for help and what each person can do to support someone they know who is struggling with any kind of emotional difficulty.