‘This is a huge need’; First adolescent mental health treatment facility to open in St. George

In this 2018 file photo, members of Dixie State University's Raging Red vocal group perform "You Will Be Found" during “Out of the Darkness Walk” event sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Washington, Utah, Sept. 29, 2018 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — With no other local mental health treatment facility options in St. George available for children struggling with depression, drug abuse and thoughts of suicide, a new care facility is scheduled to open in March.

Although St. George’s mental health care professionals can provide one-on-one weekly or monthly support, Vive Adolescent Care’s focus is to provide a stabilization facility and day treatment program for up to 50 children where they can stay for up to 30 days at a time.

According to Stuart Squares, a principal owner of the company and clinical director, the facility will fill a “gigantic” need in Southern Utah.

“This is a huge need,” Squires said. “The next closest treatment facility is about 270 miles away and even their treatment won’t touch what we are going to be doing. Children are sent there and all they do is a medical (10-14 day evaluation) then give them mediation and send them home.”

The difference with Vive is “intense” family involvement.

“There are very few companies across the country doing what we are looking to do,” Squires said. “Currently there is nothing for teenagers in Southern Utah who are suicidal. Were trying to do stabilization to make sure the medication is working and incorporate the family in the process, so here are the meds and we’ll send you to an outpatient therapist.”

Even though it is too late for Bob Feliciano, who lost his 20-year-old son Sean on March 3, 2008, he would have welcomed the help from Vive Adolescent Care.

“My son was an Eagle Scout, water polo and swim captain, hockey captain; he was a high achiever,” Feliciano, who has four other children said. “I describe Sean as my gift from God.”

Sean was born on July 6, 1988. A month later, Feliciano turned 49.

“My biggest fear was that I wasn’t going to see him grow up. Here I am, 77 years old, and he’s the one not here.”

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 6% — or more than 2 million – U.S. teenagers are clinically depressed with 1 in 65,000 choosing to take their own life each year.

Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 10 and 24.

A head-strong individual and competitive, Sean found a new chapter in his life at the University of California Santa Barbara to be challenging.

Couple the challenges of college life with a troublesome relationship with his girlfriend, Sean fell into depression and was eventually prescribed the anti-depressant, Effexor.

Like most antidepressants, Effexor can cause a higher risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior for people aged 24 years or younger.

The Friday before Sean took his life, he had told a school psychologist he was thinking about suicide. He was hospitalized for psychiatric observation, and, after tests, he insisted to his father he was fine.

He was released the following Monday but given the same prescription, Feliciano said, but at a double the dose. One day later, Sean passed away from suicide.

“Just imagine a young person taking their own life,” Feliciano said. “What a lonely, horrible, way to die. I can talk about it now. Every now and then I choke up, but I try not to. It doesn’t do me any good.”

Although Sean would not have qualified for the Vive Adolescent Care because of his age, it does point to a larger problem, Squires said.

“I’ve had parents with children on meds have asked me ‘now what,'” Squires said. “What we are doing is to provide cutting edge help with the medical model, but a therapy model and family model that supports all aspects of a change.”

In today’s fast-paced world, with 24-hour access to social media and the internet, intolerance of others on the rise. Healthcare professionals say it’s little wonder why teen suicide rates are increasing.

“One of the struggles, when someone is thinking of killing themselves, is that you are going back to a time in their life to believing in a time of insecurity and not feeling attached to people around you,” Squires said. “Technology and social media is creating an artificial attachment, one that leaves people not knowing how to be anymore.”

Facebook likes and correspondence via Twitter short circuits the normal process of establishing meaningful relationships, Squires added.

“Technology plays a factor in what I see as an artificial attachment,” he said. “This creates a lot of anxiety for people who sometimes don’t know how to handle the stress.”

The first step in prevention is identifying the warning signs.

Some estimates are as high as 80% of those thinking about suicide want others to be aware of their emotional pain and stop them from dying.

A warning sign does not automatically mean a person is going to attempt suicide, but mental health professionals say any sign should be taken seriously.

The warning signs that mental health care professionals pay close attention to include a prior suicide attempt, talking about suicide and making a plan, giving away prized possessions, preoccupation with death, signs of depression, a lack of energy or motivation, hopelessness and anxiety, as well as drug and alcohol use.

“The answer comes with a hard price,” Squires said. ” It’s about reengaging and reattaching to feelings and experiences. It is about learning how to get through things you don’t need to get to a quick out by ending it all. Kids need to learn how to feel and experience emotions in a healthy, natural process rather to escape it.”

Squires added that children today feel alone, which compounds the problem.

“That is our model to create activities … to attach to their family and express feelings and feel secure,” he said.

In Washington County, one primary target audience is for 11-year-old children.

The age of adolescent suicide is getting and younger and younger, Squires said. There has been a spike in this age group that is distributing.

“In Southern Utah, hospitals can’t really treat adolescents,” Squires said. “They have to be assessed and determined if they are okay to go home or to be sent somewhere else 300 miles away.”

In the works with Vive Adolescent Care is an agreement with the state to provide families covered under Medicaid with help, Squares said.

“We have a few things to complete with the state, but we are almost there with a state license,” Squares said. “This is a great location with great use.”

Teens considering suicide and parents seeking help are urged to call Teen Lifeline’s 24-hour hotline at 800-248-8336 or the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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