Coping with Loss
Louisa June and the Nazis in the Waves
Grieving /loss and mental health/emotional health are two different things. I'll start with mental health:
A word about Mama’s “melancholy,” as presented in my novel. In 1942, there were no truly viable treatments for profound depression or anxiety disorders. A daughter like Louisa June had few places to turn for help for her mother. She does find support with her Cousin Belle, who listens and respects Louisa June’s fears, offers empathy and practical, proactive actions that psychotherapists recommend today. In the 1930s and ’40s, however, there was little comprehension that mental health issues were medical conditions, stemming from physical, bio-chemical imbalances and genetic vulnerabilities—which life events can ignite or exacerbate—as surely as things like diabetes or heart disease. So, people like Mama who battled depression or anxiety were subject to misunderstanding and unkind judgments from their community. If they were hospitalized, they often had to endure well intended but horribly flawed treatments such as being put into steam cabinets from the neck down or submerged in cold-water wraps to “calm their nerves.”
That was then.
Today, depression and anxiety are better understood and effectively treated with medicines and talk or behavioral (CBT) therapies. These health conditions and susceptibility are far more commonplace than the public realizes. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, one in five adults experience emotional health issues or mood disorders, and in 75 percent of cases the symptoms began by age 24. And yet, the average delay between onset and treatment is eleven years—a tragic delay since a regimen of medication and therapy will bring significant relief within eight weeks in 60 percent of people. The harm and heartbreak of sufferers not seeking help or being denied it by insurance companies can spill over onto family and children as well, sometimes with deep, detrimental impact.
Teens, you are not alone. If you are struggling, or you feel someone you love is suffering, ask adults you know and trust—teachers, neighbors, scout leaders, coaches, ministers, extended family—or medical experts (like your family doctor) for help. You can also call this anonymous hotline for advice: 800-273-TALK.
These websites are good beginning spots for teens looking for (or wanting to) help:
Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety:
Proactive advice: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/caring-for-your-mental-health
For educators and adults:
Please see this discussion guide for ways of talking about mental health with students and young people.
Using Novels as Springboard for talking about emotional wellness and/or grief: A Blog for NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness)
MindUp Social-Emotional Learning Program for kids:
Founded by Goldie Hawn. Based in neuroscience, MindUP teaches the skills and knowledge children need to regulate their stress and emotion, form positive relationships, and act with kindness and compassion: https://mindup.org/
Over our history, thousands of young Americans have suffered the death of beloved family or friends during war, as does Louisa June. Today, many experts warn that the COVID pandemic has spawned a dangerous emotional health epidemic of its own, stemming from isolation; the interruption of daily life, school, and coming-of-age milestones; economic unknowns and fears; and, most devastatingly, the sudden loss of parents and caregivers. The National Institutes of Health reports that as of May 2022, more than 200,000 children under the age of 18 in the United States have lost a primary caregiver to COVID: a parent, a custodial grandparent, or a grandparent caregiver who provided the child’s home and basic needs, including love, security, and daily care.
For these young people, life turned on a dime and with earthquake-like force. And because of tragically necessary COVID shutdowns, many were never able to mourn in the way we typically do, surrounded by a supportive community and with funerals and eulogies that celebrated that lost soul—making the sudden death even more painful for family. Children may be dealing with a surviving parent who is struggling to cope as well. Healing takes time. Straightforward, empathetic honesty/ kindness/attention from caring adults and friends can make such an important difference for these young people. Do not be afraid to reach out to them. But do it for them, not you, please. Remember, they often do not know how to ask for help or express all they are feeling. These links provide a good beginning in knowing how to talk in a helpful way to grieving teens or children:
Coping with Grief: