Did you know that May has been National Mental Health Awareness Month since 1949? The observance has been instrumental in increasing awareness, education, de-stigmatization, and early intervention for those suffering from mental illness.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern in the US. If you are bereaved, you have likely experienced anxiety. Psychologists and grief researchers posit that not only is it “normal” but expected to experience some degree of anxiety in the days, weeks, and months after the death of a loved one.
Unfortunately, the Covid 19 pandemic has significantly exacerbated the stress and anxiety levels of grievers and affects the general population. Over the course of the pandemic, the threats to our safety have included racial strife, civic unrest, political polarization, economic losses, rampant unemployment, virtual schooling, social distancing, and disrupted social routines.
So… Is it over yet? After five months of the pandemic, now complicated by seemingly worsening societal unrest and political polarization, many Americans are growing weary. We are bombarded daily by reports of soaring death tolls, traumatic imagery, and conflicting information from our government officials. Although we have attempted to re-establish a sense of normalcy by ending lockdowns, reopening the economy, etc., it has become evident that we must maintain extreme vigilance.
The great majority of us are acutely and profoundly affected by the coronavirus pandemic. To protect us from the spread of the virus, all levels of government have responded by mandating severe lifestyle changes for us personally and societally. Perhaps the most difficult of these are lockdowns and social distancing. This disruption in day-to-day routines and lifestyle imposes great hardship and necessitates drastic adaptive measures. Read more
Through the use of art-making, discussion, reflections, and relationship building, art therapists support individuals in a variety of life struggles, helping draw out – sometimes both figuratively and literally –deep-rooted feelings or stories that often can be challenging to express otherwise. This is especially true in processing grief and trauma, yetart therapy can also be a means of developing of coping skills, increasing self-awareness, strengthening self-esteem, managing stress, andengaging in a positive social interaction. All of these are useful tools in addressing the comprehensive work of rebuilding one’s lifefollowing a devastating experience of loss. This adaptive, healing strength found in creative expression often results in a meaning-making process that transforms into emotional wellness.
In recent years our country has been increasingly affected by this tragic epidemic, and not surprisingly, our Center has been supporting a great deal of these bereaved families. The numbers are staggering: according to the CDC, more than 5000 teenagers attempt suicide each day, making it the second leading cause of death, behind accidents. Almost 90% of teen suicides are attributable to a diagnosable and potentially treatable mental illness. Four out of five of these teens give clear warning signs, but not all.
Our staff is acutely impacted by this current and deteriorating scourge in our society. One cannot avoid being saddened and moved by ubiquitous reports in the media of the suffering of addicts as well as their loved ones.
The current opiate addiction epidemic has been fueled by a paradigm shift in the way people initially become addicted. Yes, heroin addiction still results from young people experimenting with “gateway drugs” which eventually progress to trying heroin. However, in recent years, a high percentage of people get addicted to heroin after having become dependent on prescription opiate medications. These people come from all walks of life, regardless of race, gender, age, ethnicity, and socioeconomic circumstances. They typically sustain a benign acute injury, such as a toothache, sprained ankle, or chronic pain that necessitates a prescription of oxycodone, for example. It often doesn’t take long for dependency on such medications, which have been overprescribed by doctors. Eventually, the patient has difficulty obtaining the medications, or cannot afford to sustain their use, typically due to expensive insurance co-pays, etc. This often leads to purchasing the meds online or illegally, which also becomes expensive and problematic. Tragically, the patient turns to heroin which is much cheaper, stronger, longer-lasting, and accessible.
Is every grief experience unique? Technically, yes. We know that grief response is influenced by many factors: gender, age, relationship to the deceased, circumstances of the death, and prior loss history. However, researchers have found that among grievers certain patterns or styles do exist.
Our last newsletter reported the death of Clara, the beautiful and cherished Golden Retriever who served cheerfully and dutifully as the mascot and therapy dog for Camp Millie for several years. The impact of Clara’s death has prompted us to say a few words on this important subject.
Psychologists have long known that the level of suffering that pet owners endure after their pet dies can be as devastating as the death of a person. Similar to humans, each relationship with a pet is unique, therefore so is each grief process. It is normal and expected to grieve after any attachment relationship is severed, whether due to a sudden accident or prolonged illness. Grieving pet owners sustain physical, cognitive, emotional, spiritual, and social changes as they adapt to the upheaval in their lives presented by the loss. As with grief for a human, these normal signs of grief gradually wane with time, and the griever eventually maintains a relationship of warm memories of the pet.
Guess what? It depends! Clearly your response to someone crying has much to do with the relationship or level of intimacy with that person. However, given that, some supportive gestures are encouraged and some are definite no-no’s! In general, no matter what the relationship, doing or saying nothing is not a good idea as this can often make the crier feel worse. Don’t ever assume you know how to comfort someone, especially someone you don’t know well. For example, some criers welcome physical touch such as a pat on the shoulder or a hug and others may find it intrusive. The less intimate the relationship, the more it is appropriate to ask if or how the person would like to be helped.
In fact, if you have no idea what to say, it’s okay to be honest and forthright about that and say something simple like “I’m here for you.”
The counselors at the Center for Loss and Bereavement work from a variety of the latest and best researched Grief models and concepts. One of these is called “Continuing Bonds”. Continuing bonds simply means that it is encouraged and healthy for survivors to maintain the relationship with the deceased. This relationship can no longer be one of “flesh and blood”, but can be maintained as a mental image or internal representation of the deceased. This ongoing “relationship” may involve perpetual “conversations” in one’s imagination with the deceased, a sense of maintaining loyalty to the deceased, a sense of “being watched over” by the deceased, and involving the deceased in decision-making. Read more