As the Children’s Healing Center (CHC) looks ahead to World Mental Health Day on Oct. 10, the organization is emphasizing the importance of mental health while caring for those who have experienced medical trauma.
Over the past year, staff and volunteers of Grand Rapids-based CHC, in collaboration with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Pediatric Traumatic Stress Network, worked to create a customized trauma-informed training program to help team members “realize, recognize, respond and resist” and ultimately avoid retraumatizing the person or family experiencing medical trauma.
CHC is highlighting the fact that individuals who go through a complex medical diagnosis and their families are more likely to experience intensified mental health effects. Managing these harsh realities, combined with the everyday stressors of life, can often be overwhelming and cause the individual to feel overwhelmed and alone.
“We acutely understand that every family who comes through our doors has experienced medical trauma,” said Melissa Block, CHC associate director. “We want to be the safe place they can come to and help them understand that working through trauma is normal, and it’s OK to be vulnerable in that space.”
The pandemic has highlighted the detrimental effects of isolation and loneliness and often create additional problems for those experiencing trauma. Access to a safe environment, healthy eating habits and human connection, among other factors are believed to have an impact on 70% to 80% of health care outcomes.
Volunteers and team members of CHC are hoping to meet the individual needs of families that come to the center through the training they’ve received over the past year. These same practices also have been implemented into all of CHC’s programming, which seeks to give children with weakened immune systems and their families the opportunity to socialize and play with others experiencing similar circumstances.
“Children and their families served at the center are getting the most customized, collaborative, trauma-informed care as possible,” said Megan Rogers, a certified child life specialist with University of Michigan Health-West. “The training, coupled with a space that allows children to come together and play, helps lessen that traumatic experience for these families.”
For families like Nicole and Dan Ribbens, whose son Louis was born with a congenital heart defect, the center provides a safe environment where they can feel seen and understood.
“I think one of the reasons I was so grateful to be introduced to the center is there are other parents just like me here,” Nicole Ribbens said. “I didn’t know I needed that until it was given to me. Being around parents who know exactly what we’ve been through and have experienced their own trauma allows us to share without having to censor ourselves.”
CHC plans to continue to research methods that provide a more well-rounded understanding on how isolation and loneliness impact a child’s recovery and seeks to discover new ways of providing the highest level of care possible to those impacted by medical trauma.
Those in support of CHC and its mission are encouraged to wear green on Oct. 10 in observance of World Mental Health Day and post a photo of themselves participating in activities that promote their own mental health.