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Published on February 08, 2022

Emily and Jason Feldhaus

A Mom’s Perspective on Mental Health

A mom knows when her child isn’t doing well. Whether it’s a fever, a tummy ache, a bad day at school, or deep emotional and mental turmoil – a mom just knows.

During his early school-age years, Emily Feldhaus and her husband Jason saw behaviors in their son that they didn’t understand. He’d have anxiety and emotional reactions that didn’t match a given situation. “He didn’t smile a lot. He had more bad days than good,” Feldhaus remembered.

The parents sought mental health services including counseling and psychiatric care for their son. Yet all the steps they took didn’t prevent what they feared the most. When he was only 11 years old, their son attempted to take his own life.

“It seemed like he’d had a decent day. My husband went downstairs to check on him and called for me to get downstairs.” They saw their son with a suicide note and a weapon. Feldhaus looked at him from a distance – very still and pale – not knowing if he was OK.

Turning to a Trusted Resource for Help

When they realized he was alive, they couldn’t just breathe a sigh of relief and carry on with their evening. “We knew we needed to go somewhere. We knew he could die from this illness. He was having fatal symptoms,” Feldhaus said. Suicidal thoughts and behavior are “red flags” that should always signal a loved one to get help.

If you or someone in your family is experiencing behavioral health concerns and you don’t know where to turn or what to do, start your journey toward healing by calling 1-800-691-4336.

Taking him to Avera Behavioral Health Center – and leaving him there – was one of the hardest things Feldhaus ever had to do, even though she knew he was in the capable hands of people experienced in child and adolescent mental health services.

Her son took part in an assessment that pointed toward inpatient care, and he indicated that he wanted to stay and get help.

Visits were difficult because her son would change his mind and beg to go home. The care team assured her this was common. They kept in touch with the parents through care conferences with his psychiatrist and counselors. His doctor developed an after-care plan for counseling and continued medical care.

“Anyone who knows Avera knows that they see the person as a whole person. They believe in the power of prayer,” said Feldhaus, an emergency room nurse at Avera Queen of Peace Hospital in Mitchell.

Once he was ready for discharge, Feldhaus wanted to bring her son home, but still struggled. Would he be safe in their home? “I knew I needed to trust the doctors and the staff.”

Signs of Hope

After the inpatient stay, the cure didn’t come overnight. Yet the parents began to see signs of improvement, giving them much-needed hope.

There were still those days when Feldhaus experienced “10 to 20 seconds of panic” when she couldn’t find him right away upon returning home after work.

Guilt and shame are natural reactions for parents of troubled children, and Emily and Jason were no exception. “We still think, ‘how did we not see it?’ We think somehow we failed him.”

Since those difficult days, it’s been a journey of healing. Having experienced a therapy dog, he wanted to have his own dog, and benefited from having a furry, unconditional friend in his life.

A Restored Family

Their son went on to be a successful, straight-A student. But more importantly, “his smile is back. He has joy. He is with us,” Feldhaus says.

As Avera opens a new wing at the Avera Behavioral Health Center to provide expanded and enhanced services to both youth and adults, the Feldhauses want others to be aware of lifesaving care that’s available to help keep families intact.

She feels that without the intervention they received, her son would either be “a shell or in heaven.”

“Our family would have been forever traumatized,” Feldhaus said. Instead, the opposite is true. “Our family was restored over a number of years.”

Learn more about our Behavioral Health services for children and adolescents.

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Avera is a health ministry rooted in the Gospel. Our mission is to make a positive impact in the lives and health of persons and communities by providing quality services guided by Christian values.

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