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Original Article

Spirituality, Adolescent Suicide, and the Juvenile Justice System

Richard A. Wahl, MD, Sian Cotton, PhD, Patricia Harrison-Monroe, PhD
Volume: 101 Issue: 7 July, 2008

Abstract:

Background: Spirituality is often overlooked as a coping method and resilience factor in the lives of adolescents. An improved understanding of the role of spirituality in the lives of adolescents will help in understanding the choices many teens face during times of personal crisis. Youth entering the juvenile justice system often present with high rates of mental health problems and suicidal ideation.


Method: Two clinical vignettes of adolescents who exhibited suicidal ideation while in juvenile detention are discussed.


Discussion: An understanding of the role of spirituality for an adolescent in crisis can greatly enhance our ability to provide culturally competent care and offer meaningful support. This becomes increasingly important as the juvenile detention population becomes ever more diverse. Valuable information can be obtained by taking a “clinical spiritual history” which enables clinicians to have a clearer understanding of an adolescent’s worldview and provide the necessary therapeutic interventions. Specific questions are suggested as a basis for obtaining this information.


Key Points


* A “spiritual assessment” may be useful in the mental health evaluation of adolescents in crisis.


* Practitioners need to be aware of the various religious and spiritual traditions represented by today’s adolescents to most effectively diagnose and treat mental health problems.


* Addressing the spiritual concerns of adolescents has both benefits and risks.


* Clinicians have an ethical obligation to provide culturally competent care, including an awareness and willingness to incorporate spirituality if indicated by the needs of their patients.

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