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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Healing within families following youth suicide Grant Kalischuk, Ruth


Despite preventive efforts, youth suicide is identified as a public and mental health problem of epidemic proportion in Western society. The short- and long-term health and human consequences associated with youth suicide are enormous, affecting each family survivor, the family, and ultimately, the community and society. Youth suicide has its greatest impact on the family, yet health care responses to these grieving families remains inadequate at best. This grounded theory study, based on a health promotion philosophy that embraces the strengths and resilient nature of grieving individuals, examined how individuals within the context of the family heal in the aftermath of youth suicide. Eleven families from rural and small urban centres were interviewed for the study during an 18 month period. Individual healing following youth suicide is conceptualized as Journeying Toward Wholeness. This journey is characterized by the inter-relationships among three enfolding, fluid, and iterative themes, which in themselves, each represent one portion of the overall journey: Cocooning (Journey of Descent); Centering (Journey of Growth); and Connecting (Journey of Transcendence). Within each theme, five self-organizing and inter-relating patterns (i.e., relating, thinking, functioning, energizing, and finding meaning/exploring spirituality) operate in mutual rhythmical interchange with the other patterns unbound by time. Each pattern describes one facet of the individual's experience in response to youth suicide. Journeying toward wholeness (i.e., healing) varies in expression and intensity over time in response to a variety of contextual factors including personal history, factors related to the suicide, social considerations, and the health care environment. Importantly, healing emanates, as an act of volition, from the survivor's consciousness (i.e., the healing epicentre) as a result of decision making. The degree to which healing occurs depends on a number of intervening variables reflecting the survivor's capacity to say yes to life; step out and speak up; achieve a sense of peace, harmony, and balance; and expand personal consciousness. As a major outcome of the healing process, each survivor creates a love knot, symbolic of the healing strategies he or she uses to facilitate healing within both private and public spheres. The love knot represents the creative expression of love as a healthy and continuing bond between the survivor and deceased youth. The love knot is based on the meaning the survivor attributes to his or her experience with youth suicide and the relationship between the survivor and deceased youth prior to death. Ultimately, individual healing expands outward influencing family, societal, and global spheres. The theory presented in this dissertation will be of particular interest to clinical nurse specialists and mental health care professionals from a variety of disciplines who work closely with families in the community. With its focus on health promotion, this theory captures some of the intricacies and complexities of the healing process and is intended to serve as a possible reference to guide evidence-based health care practice.

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