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.