How to Sacrifice More for a Chapel? What about People?

Virgin Mary Image (Retrieved on March 15, 2015 from kofc1349.org)

Virgin Mary Image (Retrieved on March 15, 2015 from kofc1349.org)

My church has recently been raising money to build a chapel, to be attached to the main church sanctuary. This chapel has been an integral part of the original plan ever since the new church was built a few short years ago. The head priest at my church has been campaigning during Masses to encourage parishioners to contribute, to make pledges to the building campaign for the chapel. The priests of my church are sensitive and caring men of good hearts. They are positive-minded and see the goodness in others, always promoting and proclaiming God’s word. They are men who people look up to, men who are leaders, men who have the respect of the followers.

However, sitting among my fellow parishioners in a relatively new church that was desired by and created for the parish community, it strikes me that the building we already have is more than enough. Why is it necessary that a chapel be built? We can gather, worship, and pray in any location. Must that location always be a church, a chapel, a sanctuary that looks fancy, costs much, and makes us feel good to attend?

One of the concerns regarding costs of the church includes the amount of money it takes to heat it – and likely air condition it, as well. Monies can be saved by applying energy-saving actions to prevent the heated and/or air-conditioned air from escaping. In winter, the set of doors beyond the main entrances should be closed at all times. The same can be done in summer. Side doors to the church sanctuary could be designated for emergency exits only. This will further prevent energy – and money – from exiting the building. What also could have been accomplished – and it may still be able to be done – is to better fortify the church roof with high-quality insulation. Insulation is not something many people think about here in the South, however, it saves $100s to $1,000s in the long run.

Picture of Virgin Mary (Retrieved on March 15, 2015 from turnbacktogod.com)

Picture of Virgin Mary (Retrieved on March 15, 2015 from turnbacktogod.com)

Why do I care about all of this? Sure, I am a member of my church; I am a parishioner. I have been a follower of my faith – despite some disagreements with overall leadership and policies – for my entire life. There are things I like about my faith, and things that I don’t like. However, I also see that other faiths have similar issues. I further care about this issue because of the environment. I wonder how we, as parishioners, can enjoy the best energy-savings and value for our money. I ask what steps can be taken to best accomplish and continue that?

But, even more important, the main issue regarding why I care about this issue is about myself. Why, you ask? I love my God, I am a faithful follower, and I am a supporter of the leadership of my church, however it strikes me as being out-of-touch when parishioners are asked to make more of a sacrifice in our lives so that this chapel may be erected. As one who sacrifices just to come to church, just to attend church services, and just to give what little support that I do to my church, to be asked to sacrifice more is asking far too much. One cannot sacrifice more when there is no more to sacrifice. If I sacrifice more, I would be selling the clothes directly off of my body.

So, tell me, how can those who have no more to sacrifice give more? How is it that many of my fellow parishioners around me pledge $2,000,000 to build a chapel when there are those in their midst who cannot sacrifice more? Why aren’t they inquiring about the well-being of those who cannot sacrifice more? Why aren’t they asking about what happens to those who are unable to sacrifice more? Why aren’t they offering food, work, hope, support? Overlooked are the invisible poor.

They must believe that God will fulfill the needs of those who are unable to sacrifice more – by building a fancy $2,000,000 chapel in which we can worship. Certainly, they must believe that God will provide. Personally, I don’t need a $2,000,000 chapel to attend when there is no more that I can sacrifice. We already have a church, so why do we need a chapel? Perhaps some kind soul could sacrifice a burial plot for me when I am unable to sacrifice more – just as was done for Jesus. But then again, maybe not – they might still be paying off their pledge for the $2,000,000 chapel (that was a joke). By then, it will be too late anyway.

Challenges in Mental Health Care: The Sickness v. Wellness Perspective (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Mental health care is a challenging, but rewarding field.  There are many positive sides of mental health care, and also areas that need improvement.  One of the biggest rewards of mental health care is observing and experiencing progress, recovery, and a return to wellness of clients.  Healing, recovery, and a return to wellness of clients in mental health settings requires patience, understanding, respect, and sensitivity.  Agency and organizational stability is also needed for clients in order that they receive optimal care.  While each agency and/or organization has its own culture, a culture in which workers live in fear of becoming a statistic in extremely high turnover is unhealthy in itself.

As an individual working toward licensure in the mental health profession, I am one whose perspective is from a position of wellness.  First and foremost, one must view a person as a person.  To perceive and treat a person with respect, kindness, nonjudgment, and impartiality are requirements in supporting and empowering the wellness, healing, and recovery of clients.  In the counseling profession, one based on a view of wellness in people, there exists a positive and supportive hope for the overall optimal health of the individual.

This view is different from many other mental health professions in which the general view of the client is one of sickness.  Certainly, approaching an individual with a perspective of what can be improved is helpful, and for insurance purposes involving payment for services rendered, a diagnosis of the client is required, however it is my perspective that viewing the client from a wellness standpoint is much more healthy for all involved rather than judging a person as being sick.

Those who view and describe an individual as a “sick person” have already negatively judged him or her.  They have not viewed the person as a person, but as an “ill person.”  Such a perspective held by such individuals causes them to treat the client differently, as one who needs more and more treatment, more and more medication, more and more confinement.  In these situations, the positive view of wellness is gone, and is replaced by a judgment that the “sick person” is unable to become well.

While clients have challenges to achieving and maintaining wellness, it becomes even more of a challenge when many in the mental health field view clients as sick, and only they as the professionals who hold those views have the power and expertise to make them well – or they have already judged that they will never become well.  A professional who approaches a client from a perspective of wellness (a perspective that is in the minority), therefore, faces even more challenges, not only for themselves but also for their clients when others view them as sick and unable to become well.  A person is still a person, regardless of their diagnosis or disorder.  A person is still a person, and has the capability of becoming well.  A hopeful perspective toward client wellness must exist in the mental health profession – rather than client sickness – in order that clients are supported and empowered to experience that wellness.

A further challenge in agencies and/or organizations in which a “sickness” perspective prevails is that experienced clinicians fall into the trap of believing that their views and judgments about clients are the best – that they are the experts.  Certainly, the experience of a veteran clinician is extremely valuable in treating clients, however experienced clinicians who believe that only their views, judgments, and culture of sickness are the most helpful approaches create a potentially dangerous situations for their clients.  Clinicians of all levels of experience must be open-minded to considering and perceiving different views – including those from a wellness perspective – so that their clients receive optimal care and so that they profession, itself, can grow and develop in a healthy way.

Clinicians who view clients from a perspective of illness and negative judgment place their clients at risk for further illness.  Clinicians who are set in their ways of expertise toward mental health treatment, and who are unable to be open-minded toward viewing different perspectives regarding it have already erected walls around themselves that are harmful for themselves, their clients, the culture of their agency/organization, and the field of mental health.

What clinicians must always place as a primary priority is that people are people.  As such, people should be treated with dignity, understanding, kindness, respect, and sensitivity.  If a perspective of client wellness is lacking or absent, clients will likely experience a more difficult road to recovery and may not achieve wellness.  What is healthier – being an “expert” clinician whose views of client illness cause him or her to be closed to considering a client’s optimal recovery, or being a clinician who treats a person as a person, and who applies a wellness perspective that supports rather than negatively judges the client?  You be the judge.

“Student Exodus from Area Parochial School Could be Avoided” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

St. John Neumann School Billboard, August 12, 2013, Lilburn, Georgia

St. John Neumann School Billboard, August 12, 2013, Lilburn, Georgia

During this Summer of 2013, 15 rising fourth grade students left St. John Neumann Regional Catholic School in Lilburn, Georgia.  Only three new students entered the fourth grade in addition to the 15 who left.  During the Summer of 2012, eight rising third grade students left the school.  Only two students entered the school as new pupils in the third grade.  Interestingly, both of those students also left the school this Summer, after only one year at the school.  Additionally, the vast majority of students who have left are Caucasian; most others are of mixed race parentage.  Each year for the past three years, the school has considerably down-sized in terms of student population as well as faculty.  Currently, all grade levels have two classes; it used to be that most or all grade levels had three classes up until three years ago.

As a person who has been Roman Catholic all of my life, and who has provided a Catholic education to my child, the exodus of students and faculty from St. John Neumann School is concerning and disturbing.  One must ask, then, why there are so many who are leaving the school.  I have the answers to that, and it does not necessarily involve finances, budgets, or economics.

I suspect that I will come across as “the bad guy” to many by sharing this information regarding the school, however it is for my concern for students’ welfare, well-being, safety, and positive growth and development that I am doing so.  Additionally, my son is aware that I have a blog, and he also asked me to include his perspectives; my son is 10-years-old.

First, let me state that St. John Neumann School provides an outstanding – outstanding – education to the students.  Overall, my observations of what students learn through the challenging curriculum are well above my expectations.  Each year that my son was a student at St. John Neumann School, however, was a roller coaster.  There were wonderful and memorable experiences that he had with several outstanding teachers, however there were also many situations that he experienced by peers and adults at the school that were mentally and emotionally harmful and injurious to him. 

I often communicated with both school administrators and school system administrators, encouraging that greater sensitivity, compassion, and understanding be provided to the students.  Some of my suggestions were put into place, and some were not, and some were later removed after they were first implemented.  As an involved parent at the school, as well as an active volunteer for five years there, there was much that I personally observed and/or was informed about by students.  By far, the most serious issue facing students is the bullying, harshness, and often insensitive treatment they experience by administrators and certain teachers and staff.  I often encouraged upper administrators in the past five years to hold sensitivity training for employees of the school, though that never occurred.

Another very serious issue at the school is bullying that students’ experience from their own peers.  Some children repeatedly experienced bullying from teachers, adminstrators, and/or other staff, as well as certain peers.  This has created an unnecessary and avoidable stressful and hostile environment for many students.  One problem is because many of the school employees are so harsh and insensitive toward students, they are bullies themselves, and they therefore do not recognize, nor put a stop to student bullying.  Last year, more than 25% of parents responding to a school survey stated that bullying is a problem at the school.  I am one who has, again, encouraged school system administrators to hold anti-bullying and bullying prevention programs for faculty and staff at the school, however that has also never occurred.  Such training may help reduce bullying and increase sensitivity and compassion of adults and students toward other students.

A further big concern is the overwhelming pressure that is placed on students to be perfect in every area and in every way – academics, behavior, sociality, religion, and extra-curriculars.  Beginning with the youngest children, students who do not complete their homework are regularly disciplined.  In the past, teachers required students to stand outside for 5-10 minutes “on the line” – as they would say, on the outdoor paved parking lot play area, typically in the excessive heat.  This was an unspoken rule practiced by primary and early elementary school teachers and paraprofessionals.  Older children who did not complete homework are required to write answers to particular questions on a “behavior reflection” that reduces or eliminates their 15-20 minutes of recess time. 

St. John Neumann School Parking Lot Play Area, Lilburn, Georgia, May 2012

St. John Neumann School Parking Lot Play Area, Lilburn, Georgia, May 2012

For two of the past five years, another unspoken disciplinary rule practiced by at least three school faculty involved making students walk and/or run “laps” outside during recess on the parking lot, again, typically in the excessive heat.  Sadly, this practice appears to be somewhat of a common, unwritten practice in this area – requiring students to run laps as punishment in excessively high temperatures – as I have discovered that it occurs at many schools.  In regard to one second grade boy, I informed his father that he was required to run laps as punishment by a paraprofessional, outside in the searing heat, and the dad did not believe me.  How sad that some parents are not more concerned about what their child is experiencing at school.

Other teachers at the school regularly separated certain students from their classmates by requiring them to keep their desks far-removed from those of other students, whether for certain assignments or even months at a time.  I often observed where many teachers would use guilt, humiliation, and embarassment toward students to demoralize them into doing what they wanted them to, rather than speak to children with respect, compassion, and understanding. 

Early elementary students are also required to miss 45 minutes of lunch and recess by serving detention in the main office, including for extremely minor offenses.  Such harsh and unnecessary punishments are unethical, demoralizing, and depressing to many students, particulary those outstanding students who get caught in the crossfires of the political drama at the school.  In consulting with employees of other area schools, lengthy detentions are required only in the most severe situations of high school – high school – students, not early elementary students!  I personally requested of school administration to reduce or eliminate this practice, though there was no positive change, and in fact, only a worsening of it, amounting to nothing less than emotional sadism toward students.  When those who are charged with caring for children see nothing wrong with such unnecessary, harsh disciplinary action toward children for the most minor of offenses, definite positive change is needed. 

Also in practice at the school is suspending children as young as second grade – to my knowledge; one very sweet little girl was suspended last Spring for I cannot imagine what.  In other area schools, such a practice of issuing out-of-school suspensions to the youngest students is unheard of and entirely taboo.  Such a practice proves the lack of sensitivity, understanding, and compassion by school administration.

I feel sorry for the students who are at St. John Neumann School due to the harshness, coldness, and lack of sensitivity and compassion that so many experience from alot of adults as well as peers at the school.  I have often encouraged those in charge who could make a positive difference to consider being more sensitive, understanding, kind, and compassionate toward students.   Harsh, demoralizing, excessive, and/or inhumane punishments that are disguised as “disciplinary actions” – even for the most minor of wrongs – are well beyond what school employees should expect of children.

When students get seriously hurt or ill at the school, a parent is lucky to get a phone call or communication about the incident from anyone.  A second-grade student got a serious blow to the head during outdoor play, but no ice was placed on the injury and no phone call was made to parents.  Upon picking up the child from school, it was obvious to the parent that the injury was serious.  When the child spoke of dizziness a number of hours after the injury, the parent took the child to their pediatrician. 

A kindergarten student fell in the hallway and sustained a large gash near her chin.  Parents received no communications from the school about the incident, and only a band-aid was placed on the wound.  Upon removing the band-aid after the child got home, the parent observed the depth of the wound, taking her to the emergency medical clinic where she received four stitches.  There have also been instances in which students were genuinely ill, but when they asked to go to the clinic, they were refused by certain teachers and paraprofessionals.  Keep in mind that absolutely no communications to parents by anyone at the school was made in any of these situations.

Safety is also a concern at the school.  There are no security cameras at the school, so there is no tangible record of situations that occur there – it is one person’s word against another’s.  A parent can inform an administrator about a teacher who belittles, bullies, and yells at a student – such as, simply for asking to use the restroom – but without any recording of it, the administrator does not believe it, does not want to get involved, and further, had already behaved in a bullyish manner toward children, so it is a lost cause.

Additionally, even with improved security measures having been implemented at the school this past Spring, it has not actually gotten better.  All visitors are to sign-in at the front office upon entering the building, however have been many occasion – including since the new policies were implemented – that I personally observed people enter and walk through the building without signing in at all, nor going to the main office.  There are also repeated instances of no one being at the front desk at the main office when people enter the school. 

St. John Neumann School, Lilburn, Georgia, August 2013

St. John Neumann School, Lilburn, Georgia, August 2013

Last Spring, there was an actual “intruder alert” that occurred at the school that was not a drill; I was at the school volunteering when it occurred.  Parents were not informed by any school officials that the intruder alert occurred.  While the Superintendent stated in an archdiocese newspaper article that such drills and procedures regularly occur at all schools, a teacher at the school shared that only one such alert – whether actual or drill – occurred there in the past seven years!  If she means that such alerts and/or drills occur every seven years, she would be correct that they occur regularly, however it has been my experience that many public schools, for example, practice them between 2-4 times each year.  Because these drills and alerts are not “regularly” practiced at the school, many teachers really do not know what to do.  When fire and even tornado drills are practiced more than intruder drills, I for one, am concerned about the safety of my child at the school.

Teachers are also known to leave outside doors propped or even slightly ajar when they are supposed to be closed and locked.  Unfortunately, this is also a practice at many schools, so that late colleagues can enter the school undetected by supervisors.  However, that this is regularly being done on the hallway that houses the youngest children is a serious safety concern.

Again, I will likely be viewed as the bearer of bad news by sharing this information, however I believe that steps need to be taken to make improvements in order to progress rather than regress at St. John Neumann School.  I know I won’t win any awards for my article.  That my son – a 10-year-old – also wanted me to share his views about what he experienced at the school reflects the tone and atmosphere that is present at the school. 

While we have had many wonderful and memorable experiences at the school, as well as having met, interacted with, and befriended many people – including some truly great teachers – it is a serious concern when a school does not live up to it’s mission and standards.  When “teaching the Gospel values” of God and Jesus in the Catholic tradition is merely spoken but not actually practiced by many school representatives, there is definitely something that must change for the better. 

So, at $7,000 per student in tuition only, St. John Neumann lost a total of 18 students from the second and third grades in the past two years.  I think that’s a total of $126,000 if I did my math correctly, right?  That’s alot of money to be losing.  In business, it is always said that it is much easier to retain those people who are already part of an institution rather than recruit new ones.  However, in sharing my perspectives about this to both school administrators and school system administrators, there has been an apathy and lack of concern about it.  For me, personally, as a Catholic and having desired for my child to have a Catholic education, this is a serious concern. 

Thus, the reasons that I have described herein, I believe, are those that have caused the increasing exodus from and diminished size of St. John Neumann School in Lilburn, Georgia.  Isn’t it time for a positive change?  My aim in sharing this information is not to be critical, however it is to be honest and urge for positive change and improvements to occur at the school.  St. John Neumann is surely an excellent school at which students receive an outstanding education.  And again, while we have had many wonderful, exciting, and happy memories at the school, there are also a number of issues that deserve both serious attention and improvement. 

It is definitely disappointing when a school of one’s own faith does not meet minimal expectations regarding the value and treatment of children.  Children should not be perceived, nor treated as bad what with issuing so many unnecessary and harsh punishments; it is the perspectives and training of the adults that need drastic improvement.  Maybe if more people put their heads together, praying and working hard in doing what is in the best interests of children, that will occur.

“A Golden Fifty Years of Marriage” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Happy 50th Wedding Anniversary, Dad and Mom, July 2013 (Photo by Emmett Clower, July 2002, Snellville, Georgia)

Happy 50th Wedding Anniversary, Dad and Mom, July 2013 (Photo by Emmett Clower, July 2002, Snellville, Georgia)

What does it mean to be married for 50 years?  My parents can tell you!  This month, July 2013, my parents are celebrating their golden wedding anniversary!  All I can say is, “Wow!” 

My parents are a living and true example of what it means to be married to each other for fifty years.  My parents were married in July 1963, very shortly after they both graduated from high school in Western New York State.  They have lived and grown together in married life during these past 50 years.  They have experienced many ups and downs in their lives, and have weathered and survived them. 

My parents are a true example of people who are meant to be together.  They seem to balance each other in personality; what one may lack, the other makes up for, and vice versa.  It has always been interesting to me that they both share the same astrological sign, though they seem to get along with and understand each other very well. 

My Parents on Their Wedding Day, July 1963, Gowanda, New York

My Parents on Their Wedding Day, July 1963, Gowanda, New York

I can say that, throughout the years, I have witnessed much love and forgiveness of my parents toward each other.  This, I believe, is the glue that has held their marriage together.  They have forgiven each other for the wrongs that they have done to each other – whether realized or not – and this outlook has helped them to reach such a monumental achievement.

In this age when most marriages likely don’t make it to a silver anniversary of 25 years, my parents have doubled that!  My marriage lasted 7.5 years, and the relationship, itself, endured for 9 years.  I have said to my former spouse that my parents experienced alot worse things in their lives than he and I ever did in our marriage, and my parents have remained loving, committed, and bonded to each other.  I asked my ex why we couldn’t achieve that, however it was just not possible.  People have to be willing to be open, loving, understanding, and forgiving of each other; some people simply are unable to be that way, and so, their marriages do not last. 

My parents celebrating their 50th Wedding Anniversary, July 2013, Snellville, Georgia

My Parents Celebrating Their 50th Wedding Anniversary, July 2013, Snellville, Georgia

In good, strong marriages, those who benefit the most from the stable and loving union are the children and grandchildren.  My parents have been wonderful role models for my brother and I, and also for my son – my parents’ only grandchild.  My parents’ strong, loving union has served as a beacon of hope for our family, in good times and in bad.  It is a great comfort to know that whatever happens in our lives, our parents (and grandparents in the experience of my son) are always there for us. 

Thanks, Dad and Mom, for remaining loving, committed, and loyal to each other through these many years.  You have achieved an amazing accomplishment, one that I never will and can only imagine and experience as an observer.  Congratulations and best wishes on celebrating your Golden Wedding Anniversary; and may God bless you!

“Completed Suicide Risk Highest Within First Six Months After Incomplete Suicide” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Child mental health is becoming an area of ever-increasing concern and research, including within the area of child sexual abuse, depression, anxiety, suicidality, and bullying that lead to suicide.  Recently, within the past two months, I had opportunities to visit a large metropolitan hospital in Atlanta at which mental health care is provided on an inpatient and outpatient basis for people of all ages.  I primarily made observations in the children’s mental health unit in which children from ages 4-12 were hospitalized as inpatients.

Since making my observations, I have done much research in the area of medicine and counseling related to depression, anxiety, suicidality, and bullying that ultimately ends in the suicide of the victim.  I have also consulted with many professionals in these areas, including pediatricians, psychiatrists, psychologists, and licensed professional counselors.  Further, I have communicated with school teachers, school administrators, school mental health professionals, school system administrators, and religious about these issues.  This blog article will share some of what I discovered related to these critically important issues in mental health care.

At the hospital in Atlanta at which I made my observations regarding inpatient child mental healthcare, the most significant part about it that was very noticeable was that most of the children were boys.  On one particular day, there were 16 children housed in the unit, and 12 of them were boys, with the majority of the boys being African-American.  Of the girls present, the majority of them were Caucasian.  It was also my understanding that the majority of the boys were hospitalized due to suicidality (and/or other mental health concerns related to it, such as depression, anxiety, and/or sexual and/or physical abuse or neglect).

To me as an untrained observer, I found this to be very significant because my personal expectation was to observe there to be a greater number of girls than boys present in the unit.  Because there were significantly fewer girls than boys present in the unit over a period of several days, it became important to me to understand the reasons for it.  I got to thinking about several possibilities to explain this reality.

Perhaps girls are more open about their feelings and experiences, and/or a depressed or otherwise upset mood in girls may be more visible to others.  Perhaps boys are keeping their feelings too much to themselves due to the societal and cultural expectations for them to “be a man,” and thus, not to show their feelings.  Possibly, adults were unable to recognize signs of suicidality or depression in boys compared to girls.

Further, it may be possible that adults did not view boys’ depression or suicidality to be as serious as that of girls until a crisis point was reached.  Culturally, it is also significant that most of the children housed in the unit were African-American boys.  Specifically related to cultural or ethnic differences, I do not yet have particular potential explanations for this.  Additionally, perhaps there are other general explanations and reasons that I have not thought of for there being significantly more boys in the unit than girls.

As I stated previously, since the time of my observations of the children’s mental health unit in the metro Atlanta hospital, I have researched several issues relating to child mental health, and I have consulted with many professionals in the field.  In a study completed by Cynthia R. Pfeffer (2001, p. 1057), she stated that during prospective follow-up into adulthood of children at risk for suicide showed that a “history of sexual abuse (RR: 5.71, 95%; CI: 1.9-16.7) imparted the greatest risk” for it.  Reading this was saddening and disheartening for me because it appears that most suicide attempters and commiters have internalized their pain and suffering, are taking it out on themselves, and appear not to be able to successfully cope.  They were hurt, have lost hope and trust, and are now hurting themselves, possibly in efforts to make the painful memories disappear.  For them, suicide seems to be the only answer for removing and escaping the emotional pain.

In a study by Stanley, Brown, Brent, Wells, Poling, Curry, Kennard, Wagner, Cwik, Klomek, Goldstein, Vitiello, Barnett, Daniel, and Hughes (2009, p. 1005), the researchers reported that individuals who attempted incomplete suicide are at the greatest risk for repeat attempts and/or actually committing suicide within the first six months following the incomplete attempt (as this study particularly relates to adolescents, aged 13-19 years old).  This is extremely important to understand because those who are untrained in this area do not understand the seriousness or severity of it, or are, perhaps, in denial that the situation is serious or severe.  Regarding children, I believe this particularly applies to those in education, including teachers, administrators, and other staff because they are not equipped with the knowledge and understanding about the manner in which to best support students who have been suicidal.

And sometimes, those adults in education who are bullies toward children truly have absolutely no understanding or compassion toward students who made an incomplete attempt at suicide because they simply do not seem to care.  In fact, those type of adults may even do more damage to the child through their insensitivity and failure to understand the situation by being even more punitive or retaliatory toward the student because the issue is one with which they, themselves, are unable to successfully cope.  It remains easier for such adult bullies of students in education to bully, blame, and revictimize the student victim.

Also unhelpful are the student peer bullies with whom the suicide attempt survivor must cope.  Student peer bullies of the victim seem to bully the survivor even more because they are aware of the emotional vulnerability of the survivor, and they capitalize on that because it makes them feel good.  Therefore, in a school environment in which bullying goes unchecked, unresolved, and not corrected, suicide attempt survivors are at an even greater risk for a future successful suicide attempt because they experience bullying from adults and peers.

Additionally, O’Connor, Gaynes, Burda, Soh, and Whitlock (2012, p. 15) reported in their study that “psychotherapy did not reduce the risk for suicide attempts in adolescents in contrast to adults.”  They (O’Connor, Gaynes, Burda, Soh, and Whitlock, 2012, p. 11) further reported that “psychotherapy did not reduce suicide attempts in adolescents at 6 to 18 months” into a suicide prevention treatment program.  They (O’Connor, Gaynes, Burda, Soh, and Whitlock, 2012, p. 11) also stated that “psychotherapy had no beneficial effect on suicide ideation beyond usual care” in adolescents.  These findings are shocking, disturbing, and disheartening, particularly when there may be the extant societal belief that counseling and psychotheraphy benefit individuals with emotional disturbances and/or self-destructive ideations.  If psychotherapy is not beneficial to adolescents who have attempted suicide and/or who have suicidal ideation, what benefit is psychotherapy to children who have had similar experiences and/or beliefs?

A professional friend of mine who is a psychiatrist provided me with an article written by a women who is a sexual abuse survivor, and who was hospitalized on three occasions throughout her life due to depression and suicidality related to her traumatic experiences.  The article, “How ‘Person-Centered’ Care Helped Guide me Toward Recovery from Mental Illness,” by Ashley R. Clayton (2013), was extremely helpful to me in better-understanding what is going through someone’s mind when they are hospitalized for a mental health crisis.  The article was further assistive to me because, as a graduate student in counseling who is working on my second master’s degree, it was important for me to perceive and understand the great value of Person-Centered Therapy in counseling suicide and sexual abuse survivors.

Because so much hope and trust has been lost in survivors of sexual abuse and suicide, it is obviously critically important for others, including mental health professionals, to be as sensitive and supportive as possible of them.  The author shared that she experienced the greatest improvement through the person-centered approach and caring relationship that a particular nurse developed with her.  This is something important for me to remember and put into practice in my own counseling of trauma survivors.

Further regarding children’s mental health in relation to surviving trauma and suicide attempts, as well as those areas in relation to children’s school attendance, I spoke with two pediatricians regarding the issues.  Both pediatricians took the issues seriously, however, they did not desire to take responsibility for children who were suicidal because they stated they were not trained or highly-experienced in those areas.  Both pediatricians also desired for parents to work with the expectations of schools, even though such expectations, stresses, and pressures may be too overwhelming for some children.  Regarding the experience of child sexual abuse, both pediatricians believed that counseling was needed for child survivors, however they both believed that medication to manage the child survivors’ moods were necessary as long as they believed the child was “functioning.”

For me, the perspectives of both pediatricians – both of whom are Caucasian women with many years of experience in pediatrics – were discouraging in many areas.  First, both doctors appeared to be very quick in the desire to refer suicidal patients to other medical professionals.  While that has advantages and disadvantages, it places those at risk in the position of believing that their doctors are unable to properly care for or understand them.  Both also believed that child survivors of sexual abuse need not be medicated if they were “functioning.”  I believe that it is one thing to survive, and quite another thing to thrive.  Merely “functioning” is not fully living or thriving, to me.  And also, both pediatricians appeared to also be too quick to go along with schools’ expectations for students, including maintaining the same academic and/or disciplinary standards for students who are trauma survivors.  As an individual who is an experienced teacher, I know that students have different learning styles; placing everyone in the same category is detrimental to those who have suffered trauma.

Both a psychologist and a licensed professional counselor (LPC) with whom I consulted about difficult, damaging, challenging, and/or overly stressful and overwhelming school experiences of child trauma survivors both believed that people in education are or may be unable and/or unwilling to change in a manner that is more supportive, understanding, and compassionate toward them.  The psychologist believed there is not likely any school that would be able to meet the needs of a child who is a trauma survivor.  And, both the psychologist and the LPC believed that schools are part of the problem in not successfully supporting and understanding trauma survivors and their needs.  Those who are in education – perhaps including school counselors and school psychologists – may be unequipped in schools at being able to fully or successfully support children who are trauma survivors; this can and does have devastating effects on such children.

Of all those in the medical and mental health fields, I believe those who are most fully trained and equipped to successfully both treat and understand trauma survivors – in particular, those who have experienced sexual trauma, depression, anxiety, and suicide attempts – are psychiatrists.  Psychiatrists are in the best position to provide urgent and necessary medical and mental health care to suicide attempters, including hospitalization, evaluations, medical care, and medications.

I assume that the psychiatrists are those who most often see patients who are suicide attempters; and they see them at their lowest points, emotionally.  Therefore, psychiatrists who truly have what is best for their patients in mind seem to help suicide attempters and trauma survivors become stabilized and recover as quickly as possible.  Psychiatrists are in a wonderful position with their patients to be supportive, understanding, and compassionate; and to inform and educate society, in general, about the medical issues and needs experienced by suicide attempters and other trauma survivors.

In communicating with several people who are education professionals regarding survivors of sexual trauma, suicide attempts, and bullying (both by peers and adults in school), I have largely encountered  biases against the survivors, as well as an incredible absence of sensitivity toward them.  Such refusals of understanding, sensitivity, and compassion toward survivors by the majority of education professionals with whom I communicated can possibly be attributed to a lack of or refusal toward being educated and informed about the needs of the survivors.  Such outright insensitivity by the education professionals – the majority of those who were insensitive toward survivors were administrators – could also be attributed to a denial about the seriousness or severity, or fear due to stigmas or the unknown, regarding the issues related to survivors.

In some situations of communicating with administrators, upper administrators, and school psychologists of schools and school systems related to student survivors of sexual trauma, anxiety, depression, suicide attempts, and bullying, I also encountered not only insensitivity and a lack of understanding toward the survivors, but also inconsistencies in their behaviors toward them.  In most school and/or school system administrative personnel and school psychologists with whom I communicated, I encountered adult bullying by them toward the child survivors that was sadistic.  In such education professionals, it appeared that their incredible harshness toward the survivors was something that they wanted to occur, regardless of the outcome or effects that may or may not have resulted in actual suicide.

In other situations in communicating with education professionals about such survivors, however, I encountered empathy, compassion, understanding, and sensitivity toward them.  Such supportive actions were those exhibited by other particular school system administrative personnel and/or educators and counselors.  Such desparities in the treatment of survivors by various school personnel reflects that education professionals must be on the same page in order to consistently understand and support, as well as be compassionate and sensitive toward survivors.  This appears to be direly and desperately needed in education in order that students who are trauma and suicide attempt survivors receive the greatest possible support and understanding in their educational environments.

Therefore, it was personally extremely shocking and disturbing to me in a life-changing manner that some of the very leaders of schools and school systems not only do not support said survivors, but are actually bullying and sadistic toward them.  In these situations, I believe it would take not less than a miracle to convince such individuals to even consider a different and more positive and understanding perspective toward said survivors.

In regard to particular religious leaders with whom I have communicated about issues related to survivors of child sexual abuse, anxiety, depression, suicide attempts, and bullying, I have – thus far – experienced their compassion, kindness, and prayers toward survivors.  I have also learned, however, to carefully choose which religious to approach; not all religious are as understanding and supportive as others.  And, I am further aware that there are those religious who would take such information and use it against the victims and/or survivors in order to revictimize them.  Presently, however, that is not what I have experienced in my recent and present communications with particular religious about these issues related to survivors; and I am thankful for and relieved about that.

I believe that society has come a long way in supporting and understanding the experiences and needs of trauma survivors, including those who have experienced sexual abuse, depression, anxiety, trauma, bullying, and suicide attempts, however there is still much more progress to be made.  Those who best-recover from traumatic experiences are those who have positive, stable support in their lives.  Stressful and overwhelming situations are serious set-backs that only cause them to regress, and to continue not to hope or trust.

It is so critically important for sexual abuse survivors and suicide attempt survivors to have the consistent and unconditional support of those around them, including family members, community members, those who are in education, and others.  Without such support, compassion, and understanding – and, in fact, if the survivor experiences the opposite of those – he or she could make a future suicide attempt that is successful.  Such tragedies are avoidable and preventable if everyone practiced more patient, respect, appreciation, and compassion toward each other, particularly trauma survivors who have attempted suicide.

References

Clayton, A.R. (2013).  “How ‘Person-Centered’ care helped guide me toward recovery from mental illness.”  Health Affairs, 32 (3), pp. 622-626.

O’Connor, E., Gaynes, B.N., Burda, B.U., Soh, C., & Whitlock, E.P. (2012).  “Screening for and treatment of suicide risk relevant to primary care.”  Annals of Internal Medicine, pp. 1-22; pp. W-1 – W-5.

Pfeffer, C.R. (2001).  “Diagnosis of childhood and adolescent suicidal behavior: Unmet needs for suicide prevention.”  Society of Biological Psychiatry, 49, pp. 1055-1061.

Stanley, B., Brown, G., Brent, D.A., Wells, K., Poling, K., Curry, J., Kennard, B.D., Wagner, A., Cwik, M.F., Klomek, A.B., Goldstein, T., Vitiello, B., Barnett, S., Daniel, S., & Hughes, J. (2009).  “Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for suicide prevention (CBT-SP): Treatment model feasibility, and acceptability.”  Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 48 (10), pp. 1005-1013.

“Gwinnett Tech Screens out it’s Own Honor Student, Twice” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

'Gwinnett Technical College' Wording on Diploma Cover

‘Gwinnett Technical College’ Wording on Diploma Cover

Sometimes, a person just has to let some things go.  However painful, this has been one of those things… 

In 2010-2011, I returned to school at my local Gwinnett Technical College (GTC) on Georgia’s Hope Grant, pursuing studies that certified me in healthcare.  In transferring courses from my undergraduate university, as well as completing required prerequisite courses to pursue further program studies in healthcare-related fields, I successfully completed all courses and requirements, maintaining a 4.0 grade point average, being named to the dean’s list on two occasions, being named to the college’s honor society – as well as being an active participant in it – and earning a percentile score of 97% on the HOBET, a healthcare admissions examination.  In two of my courses completed at GTC, I also earned the highest possible ethics score of 3/3 for my performance, a score that is rarely issued to students unless exceptional ethics and mastery is reflected.

Having been unable to re-enter into the teaching field for two years – at that time in 2010 – I chose to pursue a career change.  It was my desire to pursue my interest in healthcare, and to enter into a nursing or other healthcare-related field.  Reflecting my interests, schedule availability, and financial need, I applied – twice – to GTC’s program in medical assisting, and was twice rejected from it.  Being eligible for the Federal Workforce Investment Act Grant in Gwinnett County, since I had been laid off from my previous employment, I met all the criteria for receiving the Grant due to employment as well as financial circumstances.  Unfortunately, I also discovered that the Grant was not transferrable to other counties and was required to be used – if issued – in Gwinnett County, since that was the location of the employer that had laid me off one year prior to that.

Devastated that I had been rejected from my desired program of study on the first occasion, I went through the appropriate channels of college administration and made a formal complaint.  In part, I expressed how the majority of the individuals who met with me in the formal interview process were nearly 30 minutes late to the arranged interview time, that there was no apology provided for their lateness, that the program director basically told me that I was overqualified and wondered why I was pursuing a program in which the income was low, and that the interviewers’ questions were extremely negatively-focused.  I also informed college administrators (the president and two vice presidents) that I was told by one interviewer that I would fail (!) the program.  I stated in my complaint that it was obvious to me that the decision had been made to reject me from the program long before the formal interview, and that the interview only sealed the fate they already had planned for me. 

When – as I expected – the president finally responded in writing (see letter to follow) to my complaint and appeal, she upheld the decision of the interview panel to reject me, as well as the decision of one of her vice presidents in refusing to reconsider my application to the program for that semester.  I then met with the vice president who refused to reconsider me, and discovered, in part, that the program director told her that she believed that I would be unable to complete the program due to my financial status.  What?!  The Workforce Investment Act Grant would have paid for my studies, and with my 4.0 GPA and outstanding ethics, I would have likely had nothing but success in the program, once accepted.  The vice president was further concerned that I had written to certain state government officials, particularly the state labor department commissioner, about the rejection that I had experienced, stating that the manner in which I was rejected was unprofessional.  Was it not unprofessional?

Gwinnett Technical College President's Response to my Complaint and Appeals Regarding GTC's First Rejection of me, August 2011

Gwinnett Technical College President’s Response to my Complaint and Appeals Regarding GTC’s First Rejection of me, August 2011

I, therefore, wrote additional appeals for consideration for entry into the medical assisting program at GTC – and explained all of the circumstances surrounding my desire to pursue the program and being rejected from it – to a number of state and federal government officials, some of whom included the governor and his wife, a Congress member and his assistant, the technical college commissioner and his assistant, and higher ranking members of our national government, including the President, First Lady, Vice President, and Secretary of State. 

I received kind responses from the Governor (see letter to follow), the Congress Member’s assistant, an assistant to the US President, and the US First Lady, Michelle Obama.  The technical college commissioner’s assistant also heard me out on a couple of occasions, though nothing was done to overturn the decision that was already made to reject me, nor to reconsider me in any way at that time. 

Honorable Georgia Governor Nathan Deal's Response Letter Regarding Gwinnett Technical College's Rejection of me, July 2011

Honorable Georgia Governor Nathan Deal’s Response Letter Regarding Gwinnett Technical College’s Rejection of me, July 2011

The response that included much common sense and understanding about my personal situation was that which I received from First Lady Michelle Obama.  She, in part, suggested to me that I do something else to benefit my community (see letter below).

Letter to me from Honorable United States First Lady Michelle Obama Regarding Gwinnett Technical College's Rejection of me, August 2011

Letter to me from Honorable United States First Lady Michelle Obama Regarding Gwinnett Technical College’s Rejection of me, August 2011

A number of efforts were made by staff at GTC to usher me into different healthcare-related programs, and/or to encourage me to consider other options, including applying for several positions as an instructor at the college.  My heart, however, was set on pursuing the medical assisting program, and so, less than one year later, I applied to the program for a second time. 

On the second occasion in which I interviewed for the medical assisting program, a brand new program director had been hired and who was present in the interview, as well as an entirely different interview team.  Though I thought the interview to have proceeded professionally and well, and believed that I had a wonderful chance at acceptance – even though my second application to the program was overlooked in Admissions and I had to follow-up on it several times in order for it to be recognized – I was rejected again, for the second time. 

Devastated again, for the second time, I decided that enough was enough.  After spending three years in trying to pursue medical assistant studies at GTC and being rejected twice – after also being an honor graduate there – it was time to walk away.  I could see that there was no convincing the folks there of my interest, desire, and need to pursue this career.  They had not provided me with an opportunity to succeed, but only to fail, and it was imperative that I find success elsewhere.  Perhaps they felt threatened by my education, perhaps they did not believe in me, perhaps they just didn’t like me.  After all, the new program director was less educated than I am.  Whatever the reason(s), I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter anymore.

Following this second rejection, I did not write any letters.  I did not make any formal complaints.  I did not call any government officials.  Instead, I was just heartbroken and I cried.  It was just too sad and too much for me to bear.  I discovered that it was actually true that so many people did not want me to succeed.  Even one of the professors about whom I had written a compliment letter to admininstrators, and who was an interview panel member in my second interview, rejected me.  So many people withheld an opportunity for me to be successful, to pursue an interesting career, to be able to care for myself and my family in a manner that would have provided increased financial security.  I resolved that it was their problem and their loss.

It would have been easy to give up following these rejections.  It has been these rejections added to so many other rejections.  It is easy for people to say to try again, to keep trying, not to give up.  However, one cannot get ahead when one continually runs into a brick wall.  A single, divorced mother without employment and who is highly-educated cannot give up.  No matter how much I am down, I always, always find a way back up.  I have strength.  I have faith.  And, I know that God is always there for me, no matter how difficult and impossible the circumstances.  I know that life may often seem unfair.

Needless to say, I have not applied to GTC’s medical assisting program for a third time.  No, I’m not going to do that.  Why waste any more of my time, effort, hope, emotion, and money?  I’ve already walked away.  My hurt has healed.  I realize that the door was closed to me long before I even went to my first interview for consideration into the program.  I need something that can deliver.  I do not desire to be in a place where I am not valued or understood, so I am now thankful for being rejected from a place in which so many did not value or understand me, my interests, or my needs.

So, I look back on all of this, now, and believe that – as I always do – everything happens for a reason.  When one door shuts, another is opened.  I have faith, and I have hope.  And only time will tell.