The National Suicide Prevention Website lists a number of warning signs that can be helpful in recognizing if one is at risk for suicide. Knowing the warning signs, especially if behaviors are new or have increased as well as signs that seem related to a painful event, loss, or change are tell-tale signs.
We mourn the passing of a legend and for many a hero. Much has been written in the past few days about Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG) and how she was a force for change, an advocate for women, a crusader for LGBTQ+, the disabled and many more.
Mother’s Day is a celebration of mothers and motherhood. I recognize that Mother’s Day can bring mixed emotions to both children and mothers impacted by social distancing and other challenging circumstances related to trauma, grief and loss.
Grieving someone alive is not a conventional form of grief that is often talked about, but is a real issue that is faced by the living. Death is often viewed as the base requirement for grief but mourning the deceased is only one facet of death. If you have never experienced this, you likely do not understand what we’re talking about. How can you grieve for someone that you haven’t lost? If you have experience this sort of grief, you probably are cheering inside your head that someone has finally put to words what you’re feeling.
Grieving for someone alive, is not the same as anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief is the type of grief that comes about when you know that you will soon be experiencing a loss, such as when a loved one is dying or in the hospital. If you are experiencing anticipatory grief or looking for resources on it, please visit the following link: http://www.whatsyourgrief.com/anticipatory-grief/.
WHY UNCONVENTIONAL GRIEF HAPPENS
If you’re not familiar with this form of grief, you may be unsure how this is possible or what often triggers this form of grief in people. Often, this form of grief is caused by a loved one becoming someone that you no longer know or recognize.
COMMON CAUSES OF UNCONVENTIONAL GRIEF
• Mental Illness
• Drug or Substance Addiction
• Dementia or Alzheimer’s
• Brain Injury
• Family Trauma
The unfortunate truth of grieving someone alive is that they are still there as the person you once knew but psychologically are a different person than they were before. Also, many of these factors are outside of the control of the person experiencing them or the person who is watching their loved one suffer. It can be hard for either party to recognize because the person does not always look like they are sick.
Don’t look at these causes and think that they mean that you love this person any less though. This form of grief, just like grieving someone who is deceased, does not change the level of attachment to the person. Simply, this person is no longer acting how they were before and have had a dramatic shift in personality. If your brother is suffering from a drug addiction, his behavior may become erratic and he might start stealing from yourself or other family members. Some will grieve the life that he is not living as he focuses living for his addiction. If someone is dealing with a mental illness, they may now be dealing with depression so badly that they are unable to go on living their life or they may be experiencing delusions or hallucinations.
A person will experience many emotions while grieving someone alive. These emotions may be more powerful and more confusing than the grieving process for someone who has recently passed. Anger is a prominent emotion that shows up. The grieving individual could feel anger towards their loved one for the issues they are dealing with and have a hard time understanding that they may not be able to change, such as in the case of mental illness. While experiencing anger, you may feel guilty as well that you are experiencing anger or guilty that you cannot control or change the situation.
Unlike when someone dies, you are unlikely to experience positive emotions while grieving someone alive. When someone passes, you are surrounded by the comfort of their loved ones and are often able to look at the joy of their life. This rarely happens with unconventional or ambiguous grief. Just like when someone dies, you are likely to be overcome with sadness. However, the reminder of your sadness is constant every time you think of this person or hear about them.
How to Grieve Someone Alive
• Let yourself grieve. Don’t attempt to hide or suppress your grief for this situation just because society or your loved ones don’t understand or acknowledge what you’re going through. Be open to sharing how your feeling to close family and friends and don’t push yourself to be someone you’re not at this time.
• Find other people in the same situation. Connecting with other people who are experiencing the same kind of personal loss as you is an invaluable resource. This can come in the form of a support group or finding an individual to speak with. Having someone understand what it is like to be grieving someone alive will help to put your situation in perspective and help you to gain insight on the validity of your feelings.
• Don’t forget your memories or the past. When you are experiencing ambiguous or unconventional grief, it is easy to forget why and how you previously loved someone in the midst of their hurtful behavior. Remind yourself of the good times that you had and why you originally loved them. It is okay to cherish old moments and mourn that they are gone. Remember that that person is still here though, just not at the moment.
• Open yourself up to change. One of the hardest parts of grieving someone alive is that you are forced to accept a changed relationship that you do not want. It may be difficult for you to look on a loved one in a different life, but you may be able to experience a rewarding relationship with them in new ways than before. Focusing on finding joy in your new relationship will help keep your mental state positive rather than gloomy.
• Always remember that the illness is not the person. For many people, this is the hardest mental hurdle to overcome while grieving someone alive. Stop yourself from thinking of your loved one as the disease they’re dealing with, whether it be addiction, Alzheimer’s, or depression. You will still likely feel angry towards the person but understanding what they’re actually dealing with can help you process some of those feeling.
Unconventional Grief, Ambiguous Grief, or grieving someone alive are all very real and pertinent forms of grief that need to be treated, understood and addressed. Become a member of The American Academy of Bereavement today to find more resources on grief.
Join CARE Counseling and My Talk’s Mom Show as we work to connect Minneapolis Mom’s to Mental Health and Counseling Resources. Special guests this week on The Mom Show includes staff members Shannon Henry and Heidi Bausch as they discuss the concepts of grief and loss.
Like many who have social media accounts, I regularly check my timelines and feeds for intriguing articles, updates and happenings. Two years ago, I was mindlessly scrolling through one of my accounts before going to bed and one post immediately stood out among the rest: It was a suicide note.
Frantically, I read my friend Mark’s post. It detailed his internal suffering over the years, which he no longer wanted to endure. The comment section grew at an alarming rate. People asked questions, both directly to Mark and to each other. Some people were pleading with him to reconsider. Others offered comments of hope.
Over the next few days, I saw something I did not expect. Hundreds of comments on Mark’s post evolved into a community of people coming together to help find Mark, who had gone missing. People used his previous posts on other social media platforms to piece together his possible location. Some contacted the authorities—and thankfully, those authorities located him before he took his life.
Social Media On The Rise
We live in a world driven by technology. We see the media regularly report on new apps for our smartphones and the latest trending celebrity tweets. Whether we’re commuting to work, studying in a coffee shop or spending time with our family and friends, being connected digitally is part of our lives. An entire generation of young people is growing up with devices in their hands, regularly engaging in social media.
According to the Pew Research Center, in 2005 only 5% of American adults used at least one social media platform. That number has since grown significantly: Today, 70% of the public uses social media, with many people using more than one platform.
Some researchers are beginning to identify connections between online social networking and mental health concerns. Among these concerns are varying levels of self-esteem and addiction to social media, as well as the internet. However, it is uncertain whether signs and symptoms of mental health conditions are the causes or effects of using social media. Since each platform is different and new platforms continue to be introduced, future research is needed to assess the true effect of social media on mental health.
Identifying Mental Health Concerns Online
When used responsibly, social media can be used in positive ways. It can be used to promote mental health to a large audience. I’ve seen individuals share their personal stories of recovery, like those on NAMI.org at You Are Not Alone and OK2Talk. I’ve seen mental health writers connect with one another on Twitter. And as with my friend Mark, during times of crisis, social media can even save lives.
On platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, users now have options for getting a friend help. If a user thinks a friend is in danger of self-harm or suicide, they can report their concerns by going to the social media websites’ Help Centers. These online Help Centers have dedicated content about suicide and self-harm prevention, which include online resources and phone numbers for suicide hotlines around the world.
The most helpful feature I’ve seen instituted recently is on Instagram. Users can anonymously flag posts by other users that have content about self-harm and suicide. That user then receives a message encouraging them to speak with a friend, contact a helpline or seek professional help. The same message appears for people who are regularly searching self-harm- or suicide-related content on Instagram.
Recent research by the Department of Defense Suicide Prevention Office notes that personal social media accounts “can provide an important window into a person’s state of mind.” At the Secretary of the Army Symposium on Suicide Prevention in mid-January 2017, military leaders, mental health professionals and companies like Google, Facebook and LinkedIn came together to see how social media can be used to connect those in need to care and resources.
How Can I Help?
With social media giants like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat dominating our screen time, it’s wise to assume that social media will continue to be a primary method of communication. Therefore, it’s up to us to look out for mental health warning signs while on social media so we are better prepared to assist a friend in need.
If you see any of the following behavior online, it may be time to step in and contact your friend directly to see how you can help:
- Cyberbullying, which includes:
a. harassing messages or comments
b. fake accounts made to impersonate someone else
c. someone posting unwanted pictures or images of another person
- Negative statements about themselves, even if it sounds like they are joking, such as
a. “I’m a waste of space.”
b. “No one cares about me.”
c. “I seriously hate myself.”
- Negative leading statements with little to no context that prompt others to respond, such as:
a. “You wouldn’t believe what I’ve been through.”
b. “Today was the worst day ever.”
c. “It’s like everyone is against me.”
If someone you know is in immediate danger—for example, they talk about a specific plan for harming themselves—contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. This lifeline can support the individual and their family members, and has the ability to connect with local law enforcement, if necessary. If a person has attempted self-harm or is injured, call 911 immediately.
If the threat of physical danger is not immediate, here are some things you can do to help:
- Report the content on the social media website’s Help Center;
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255; or
- Reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting the word “NAMI” to 741741 (standard data rates may apply).
As you scroll through your social media feeds, be mindful of what others post. Being educated about available resources is important for those of us who promote mental health, but knowing when to reach out to a friend who may be experiencing a mental health crisis is even more important: You just might save a life.
Ryann Tanap is manager of social media and digital assets at NAMI.
People often ask me: “What can I do to boost my happiness?”
I tell them that there are tons of things you can do, but then I can only recall a handful of practices in the moment. So I decided to create this complete guide for how to be happy, according to science. If you use these 23 practices consistently, you are very likely to increase your personal happiness:
1. Find out what to do first.
How are you supposed to build the right happiness skills if you don’t know which ones you are struggling with in the first place? This is why it’s helpful to take a quiz to explore your happiness strengths and weaknesses. Get a better understanding of what these skills are all about, and learn how to improve upon your weaknesses and build your “happiness strengths.”
2. Give yourself a confidence boost.
Why would you bother increasing your happiness if you didn’t think you could be successful at it? You wouldn’t. That’s why it’s so important to build your self-efficacy — to prove to yourself that you can increase your happiness. The best way to do this is by starting with easier skills — skills like gratitude or prioritizing spending time doing fun things. Get a quick win, and you’ll be more confident that you really can change your life.
3. Fuel your progress by learning how to feel better about yourself.
You wouldn’t practice math to get better at cooking. And you wouldn’t learn another language to lose weight. To be happier, you’ll likely make more progress by focusing on the skills that are most closely linked to happiness. In my research, the skill that usually turns out to be most closely linked to happiness is: positive self-views. Learning how to feel better about yourself — for example, by imagining your best possible self, noting your positive qualities, or identifying your strengths — can go a long way to increasing your happiness.
4. Create balance and overcome burnout.
How are you supposed to have the energy to be happier if you’re exhausted and miserable from work? It will be really hard. Building new skills, skills that will help you be happier, will take time and energy. So it’s helpful first to create better work-life balance.
5. Build a growth mindset for happiness.
A growth mindset refers to the belief that we can change ourselves. When we build a growth mindset for happiness, we believe we can change our happiness. This is super important, because if we don’t believe we canincrease our happiness, we won’t even bother to try.
6. Make positive memories.
Every region in our brains can be strengthened through practice. If our brains are really good at remembering negative things that happen, it can be useful to strengthen the regions of the brain responsible for remembering positive things.
7. Find those silver linings.
Everything we experience can be a bummer if we choose to see it that way. But when you search for the benefits or silver linings in your life, you may be surprised to discover a lot of good. Keep practicing to increase the positive and decrease the negative to cultivate happiness. Also, this skill has been linked to a better ability to cope with stressand be more resilient.
8. Take breaks from social media.
Facebook tends to have a negative effect on our happiness. By choosing to take breaks from Facebook — or changing the way we use social media — we can boost our happiness.
9. Spend smarter for more happiness.
How we choose to spend our money impacts what we can do and how we live in ways that impact how happy we are. When we choose a less fancy house or car — things that don’t bring us much happiness — we have more money to spend on adventures or on gifts for friends: things that actually do make us happier.
10. Communicate kindly.
When we are kind to others, we feel better about ourselves. We can do nice things for others, be empathetic, or we can just treat each other with respect, communicating kindly rather than assuming the worst.
11. End your negative patterns of thinking.
Let’s face it: Sometimes we are what’s making us miserable. We just can’t stop thinking about how so-and-so wronged us, or how our life didn’t turn out as we hoped. Negative thought processes — like worrying, ruminating, self-judgment, and fearing rejection — just keep us miserable and unable to move forward. When you find yourself thinking negatively, pause and refocus your thoughts. In time, your brain will be able to do this more easily on its own.
12. Find clarity.
How are you supposed to move your life forward when you don’t even know what you feel or why you feel it? To become happier, try to gain clarity on your emotions; find out what you’re feeling and what caused those feelings.
13. Live your values.
When you start to explore yourself and your values, you may discover that you’ve known all along what would make you happy, but you’re just not doing it. To be happier, get clear on your values, so that you can live your life autonomously, according to your own principles and values.
14. Pay attention to the good.
Sure, sometimes life is hard. But by paying attention to the good, you can rise above it and be more resilient. When you find the good, savor the moment, and bring it with you to maintain happiness even during hard times. Or try thinking about a time in the future when you’ll feel better.
15. Use your imagination to create the life you seek.
Did you know that your brain has a difficult time differentiating between things that happen in your imagination and things that happen in real life? So when you imagine something — even happiness — your brain acts as if it’s real. We can use imagination to help create happiness out of thin air and enjoy our experiences more.
16. Stay mindful.
Sometimes we want to escape. The world seems dark and scary, but by practicing mindfulness we experience more fully both the positive and the negative — we are more fully engaged in our lives.
17. Explore what happiness means to you.
We all define happiness in different ways. When you know what happiness means to you, you’ll have an easier time finding it. So explore happiness — what it means, what it looks like, and what it feels like — to more easily create it.
18. Go after life.
How are you supposed to change your life by doing the same things you’ve always done? It’s pretty tough. Instead, push yourself to overcome fearand approach life with enthusiasm. Try “doing the opposite” to see how it feels and to make your brain more flexible.
19. Speak up and be yourself.
When we let people walk all over us, we’re unhappy. But when we advocate for our own needs assertively and express ourselves, we feel more in control of our lives. Learning how to express yourself can help you overcome interpersonal challenges, which can make you unhappy.
20. Find your purpose.
We all want to feel like we made some sort of positive impact in this world, but sometimes we are uncertain of the type of impact we want to make. Explore exactly what gives you a sense of purpose and how you want to pursue this purpose to give your life a greater sense of meaning.
21. Build meaningful connections.
Did you know we enjoy just about everything more when we do it with others? This is why one of the best things you can do for your happiness is to build meaningful relationships and social connections. To strengthen these relationships, practice kindness and gratitude towards the people you care about.
22. Get off the hedonic treadmill.
The “hedonic treadmill” refers to the tendency for us to return to our original happiness level over time. To boost your baseline-level happiness, you can try changing your physiology through nutrition and exercise. To maintain your happiness, you have to get out of your comfort zone and keep adding variety to your happiness plan.
23. Hold yourself accountable.
We are more likely to do the things we say we’re going to do if we schedule time in our calendars to do them. We can also more easily stay on track if we get accountability from others. So if you really want to be happier, don’t let yourself get away with being unhappy.
My last depressive episode left me completely isolated. I didn’t respond to messages for months. Since I didn’t know how long I would be depressed, answering the question “how are you?” became emotionally draining. Actually, that one question was why I stopped talking to people entirely.
“How are you?” is such a knee-jerk opening line to a conversation; most of us don’t even realize we’re saying it, or pay much attention to the typical response of, “I’m good.” But I wasn’t good, or even okay, and saying it just to get past that question felt like a lie I didn’t want to explain.
I never would’ve guessed that I could go such a long period of time without talking to anyone. I know now how painful it was for those who cared about me not to hear anything despite their repeated attempts to reach out.
Peer support—“peer” defined both as friends and as those who identify as having mental illness—can be profoundly helpful to the recovery process and to help keep symptoms at bay. I could’ve really benefited from this kind of support during my depression, but my lack of communication with my friends and family led me to struggle in silence.
Feeling Empathy For Those Who Are Trying
When that dark cloud finally lifted, I was intrigued by how difficult it was for me to communicate with the people I cared about during my episode. I didn’t want to go through that again. I wanted to learn how to be better at communicating, especially in the thick of a depressive episode.
So I read the book, “There Is No Good Card for This: What to Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love.” It includes many wonderful examples of how and when to say or do something, and when it’s best to say nothing at all and just listen. It’s a relatively short, easy read considering the depth of knowledge it contains about difficult conversations. Some of the scenarios included made me cringe as I reflected on things I’ve said that were less than ideal.
This book was immensely helpful in learning empathy for those trying to make a connection with me during my episode. I learned that my negative reaction to my friends asking me how I was doing was because depression had changed my perception. The book helped me understand that people might say uncomfortable or insensitive things—“how are you doing?”—when they are genuinely trying to connect but don’t know what to say or what may negatively impact someone.
Learning Essential Communication Skills
I also learned how I could be a better support system for my friends facing adversities, because we all end up being the supportive friend at one time or another. Conversations are a two-way street, even if one person is doing most of the talking. How you listen and respond can change the tone and outcome of a conversation. In “There is No Good Card for This,” you can find out what type of listener you are and what you can do to improve or change the way you respond. This can help build confidence during a difficult conversation.
Here are a few tips from the book to start working on:
- Don’t judge or assume. People deal with life’s hurts in various ways. It’s easy to say how we would behave in a friend’s situation, but trust that your friend is doing what’s best for him/her, even if you don’t agree with it.
- Listening speaks volume about how much you care. It can be much easier to listen than to find the perfect thing to say. Try to avoid asking clarifying questions or offering suggestions and anecdotal stories in an attempt to connect unless you know this is what your friend wants. If unsure, ask if he or she would prefer for you to listen for support or brainstorm helpful next steps.
- Small gestures make a big difference: Some people are better at showing they care than expressing it in words. Clipping coupons for everyday essentials, preparing and delivering their favorite meal, or gifting a massage are just a few examples.
Realizing Mistakes Are Just Learning Opportunities
At the end of the day, just knowing my friends cared enough to reach out meant the world to me. I isolated myself because I felt emotionally fragile and didn’t want to be asked how I was doing. I still wanted to cheer and root for them, and to tell them how proud I was of them despite my depression; I just didn’t want them to ask how I was because I was still trying to figure that out. I now know that I could have expressed that sentiment, and my friends would have understood. It sounds so easy in hindsight, but I couldn’t even get past “how are you?” to tell them.
Please know that you are not alone if you’ve ever felt like this, and if you would like to talk to someone without fear of judgment, please call the NAMI HelpLine for references to mental health resources—including support groups—in your area or online. If you’d like to speak with a trained peer support specialist, the NAMI HelpLine can also give you a local number that you can call 24/7.
Traditional classrooms do not include courses with the sole purpose of teaching emotional intelligence, sensitivity and empathy, so those lessons tend to come from life experience. It’s important to remember to be kind to yourself and others as you navigate through difficult situations. Look back on mistakes as learning opportunities.
I have learned through this experience that if someone is reaching out to you, their heart is probably in the right place, even if they can’t find the “right” words.
Keiko Purnell is a NAMI HelpLine Volunteer.