Child and youth care professionals' mental health literacy practices in their encounters with suicidal adolescents: a grounded theory study.




Ranahan, Patricia

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



As suicide is a leading cause of death for young people, child and youth care professionals are likely to encounter adolescents who are contemplating ending their lives. Recognizing and responding to the needs of a suicidal adolescent is challenging for the professional as they attempt to balance their relationship with the young person while simultaneously following customary rules of engaging in situations involving suicide. The need for theory to deepen understanding of child and youth care professionals’ mental health literacy practices with suicidal adolescents led to this grounded theory study. Derived from interviews with 19 participants including child and youth care professionals, supervisors at youth-serving agencies, educators in schools of child and youth care, and textual analysis of policies, assessment tools, and curricula, the Balancing Perimeter and Proximity process was identified as the core category in the analysis. The Balancing process suggests professionals’ mental health literacy practices fluctuate between circling care and circling defensively. Circling defensively refers to the professional taking up literacy practices that establish a perimeter of protection; whereas literacy practices within circling care position the professional in relational proximity where they connect and attend to the adolescent holistically. The theory extends current conceptualizations of mental health literacy, and contextualizes professionals’ practice in identifying the conditions influencing the Balancing process, thereby providing an understanding for how existing structures (e.g., suicide education, agency policies) influence child and youth care professionals’ mental health literacy practices with suicidal adolescents.



child and youth care, suicide, adolescence, mental health literacy, grounded theory