This nurse shares his story of losing a son to suicide and how that fuels his passion to help families and kids with mental health needs.
Michael Wolf, BSN, RN-BC, Wolfson Children's Hospital
By Michael Wolf, BSN, RN-BC
It's distressing for any parent to have their child admitted to the hospital and to turn over control to a medical team they've barely met. It's even more distressing for parents when their child is admitted to an inpatient psychiatric unit because he or she has a mental disorder and is experiencing suicidal thoughts.
My name is Michael Wolf (the kids call me Mr. Mike). I'm the nurse manager for Pediatric Behavioral Health at Wolfson Children's Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida. We have a 14-bed inpatient psychiatric unit that provides brief acute care hospitalization and crisis stabilization services for children ages 6 to 18 years of age. We also have a partial hospitalization program/intense outpatient program serving up to 10 children, 13 to 18 years of age.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five children ages 13 to 18 have, or will have, a serious mental illness. More often than not, mental illness carries a stigma some may never get past. While recovery is possible, it may not necessarily meet our expectations.
At Wolfson, every child and family is treated with compassion and respect, and we do everything in our power to provide the services each child needs along with a list of resources for families when they leave the hospital.
One resource I work closely with is the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and I am a nationally certified instructor for NAMI's Family-to-Family Program. I teach families how to use NAMI's resources, and basic de-escalation skills. I explain concepts regarding what certain patients experience through their illness such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, PTSD and more. I strongly recommend any family who has a child suffering with a mental illness to seek out a class.
Experiencing personal loss
Among youth ages 10 to 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death. I have experienced the devastation of having my dreams for one of my children dashed when I learned my oldest son had suicidal thoughts. My son was diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) and later bipolar disorder along with others, but he was able to enter the military service and served a term in Iraq, where he finally felt purpose for his life.
My son returned from Iraq physically whole, but mentally damaged. With money in his pocket, he turned to alcohol and drugs and attempted suicide. He received treatment, and everything seemed to be going well for him. But unfortunately, the phone call came informing us he had attempted to take his life, and we needed to get there ASAP.
When we arrived, we found our son hooked up to life support in the ICU unit at Brooks Army Medical Center. Within a few days, our family met with doctors and was informed he suffered an irreversible (self-inflicted) anoxic brain injury and had been deemed brain dead.
Helping families find hope
As a psychiatric nurse and parent who has experienced the trauma of a profound personal loss, it is important for me to serve my community to the best of my ability and work specifically with children with mental health disorders.
It's my hope, through the work we do at Wolfson Children's Hospital/Baptist Behavioral Health and my work with NAMI, we prevent another family from suffering the pain and devastation of losing a child to mental illness and suicide.
As we acknowledge National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day, remember that every child with mental illness and their parents suffer unimaginable pain and deserve to have compassionate mental health care and services available to them.
I will always remain passionate about caring for children and being an advocate for those with little or no voice because I know following the trauma there is hope and healing.
Michael Wolf, BSN, RN-BC, is nurse manager, Pediatric Behavioral Health at Wolfson Children's Hospital, in Jacksonville, Florida. Send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.