- No events
From “What’s Your Grief”
Most people don’t think about the idea of loneliness in great depth. Loneliness is one of those concepts we assume we know. We equate it to the very definable concept of being alone, which means “without other people”, and thanks to “lonely people” archetypes — like the spinster with 10 cats and the misunderstood teenager — we think we know exactly what loneliness looks like.
Google the phrase “mentally ill” and you’ll find the following: “Mentally Ill Man’s Shooting Fits Troubling Pattern.” “Solitary Confinement Out for Mentally Ill?” “Chicago Police to Receive New Training on How to Assist Mentally Ill.”
And so on. There’s a potentially troubling subtext to these headlines, in that it makes “the mentally ill” sound like a separate subset of the population. The fact is, however, that mental illness — which is itself a huge umbrella covering everything from depression to schizophrenia to bipolar disorder and more — affects one in five American adults (or more than 43 million people 18 and over), according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Now new research makes the case that simply using the phrase “the mentally ill” may be inadvertently promoting a dangerous level of intolerance.
Darcy Haag Granello and Todd A. Gibbs at the Ohio State University just released a paper in The Journal of Counseling & Development looking at this issue. They took more than 600 people — undergraduate students, adults, and counselors-in-training — and used the Community Attitudes Towards the Mentally Ill (CAMI) survey. The one twist: Half of the respondents got statements associated with “the mentally ill,” and the other half got the exact same statements with “people with mental illnesses” instead. When the phrase “the mentally ill” was used, different groups showed different levels of intolerance. College students are more likely to believe that people with mental illnesses should be controlled and isolated. Adults, on the other hand, are less empathetic or “benevolent” to those suffering from mental illness and are more likely to want to have them separated from the “normal” community.
What’s most surprising is the reaction that counselors have when the phrase “the mentally ill” is used: They’re more likely to believe that those suffering from mental illness should be controlled and isolated from the rest of the community. That’s pretty surprising, given that these counselors are perhaps the ones most likely to be aware of the special needs and varying differences in diagnoses of the group.
Counselors also showed the largest differences in how intolerant they were based on the language, which boosted the researchers’ belief that simply changing language is important in not only understanding people who suffer from mental illness but also helping them adjust and cope. “Even counselors who work every day with people who have mental illness can be affected by language,” Granello said in a press release. “They need to be aware of how language might influence their decision-making when they work with clients.”
The concept of changing the way we refer to people with mental illnesses dates back to the “person-first” (sometimes referred to as “people-first”) movement of the 1990s, when advocates argued that defining a person by their disability robbed them of their personhood and their identity. “When you say ‘people with mental illness,’ you are emphasizing that they aren’t defined solely by their disability,” Gibbs said. “But when you talk about ‘the mentally ill’ the disability is the entire definition of the person.” Despite the “person-first” movement of the 1990s, Granello and Gibbs’s study is the first one to look at how language affects how we perceive this population.
Granello is hesitant to say that a conclusion can be drawn from this, that it was too early to draw definitive conclusions about how different populations responded to the phrase “the mentally ill.” The study participants were mostly white Americans; race might have a huge factor to play. And the authors note that gender could also play a role in a person’s conception of another person with mental illness.
That said, a simple change in our language, while admittedly “cumbersome,” is something that is important to not only give people with mental illness recognition of the fact that they are more than their condition, but also a way to help them integrate into society. “The important point to take away is that no one, at least in our study, was immune,” Granello said in the news release, pointing to how counselors too showed levels of intolerance. “All showed some evidence of being affected by the language used to describe people with mental illness.”
By Tanya Basu
Suicide Bereavement Support, Inc. is a self-help organization served by trained volunteers offering understanding, support, friendship and education to those bereaved and impacted by the suicide death of a child, spouse, partner, sibling, family member, friend, client or co-worker.
From the Board:
We are excited to resume our newsletter after a time of reorganizing the Suicide Bereavement Support organization. With new board members and a committed vision to provide support for those in our community who have experienced a suicide death we have worked on getting the business in order, web page operating, brochures printed, volunteer facilitators trained, and new groups started.
This newsletter will now be online. We are finally catching up with the times, and will be able to support our community better. If you would like to receive a quarterly newsletter, sign up, including your email.
For those of you who need a paper copy, please send us a note with your mailing address and we will happily get one to you. Find us on our new and updated web page: www.sbsnw.org
or on Facebook: sbsnw community page and Facebook group.
My daughter Barbara died in 1982 by suicide at the beginning of her sophomore year of college when
she was 19 years five months and two days old. She was the next youngest of the children. She was
attending a college in Santa Fe New Mexico. Her sister, Laura, her father, and I flew down for the
college memorial service. We returned to Oregon and then to McMinnville where all the children grew
up for Barbara’s service and burial in the cemetery near the family farm.
My son Bill was killed by a drunk driver in a three car crash 21 months later in 1984. Two other young
men were also killed, but not the young 19 year old drunk driver. Bill was 28 and a half years old. SO
again we were in McMinnville at the same funeral home and the same church for the service for Bill.
Then we went out to the Clackamas River to scatter his ashes where he had been kayaking recently.
This time the funeral director had a recommendation that really caught my attention. He suggested that the siblings spend some time together without their divorced parents. Think of the major holes
THEY had to adjust to in their relationships!
I realized how often a young adult is asked “How are your mom and dad doing?” and maybe “How are you doing?” They have known their sister or brother all their life. Their relationship is bond that is like no other. That is very hard to live with. The loss of a sibling is very different than the death of a parent. I know I tell people not to compare and decide what is the hardest, but… maybe the death of a sister or brother can carry a weight that a parent does not always recognize. People often do not know what to say so will avoid or stay away. I encourage people to be present, share that they don’t know what to say, and speak the name of the person who died, share memories and stories. Even though it can be sad, and brings tears, I know how important it is to have the person remembered.
Even though I was very concerned about my children, wanting them to have counseling, I realized I
was blind to much of what was happening in their lives then. I have been involved in the Suicide
Bereavement Support group from the beginning. I am delighted to see the adults that my children
have grown into. Periodically one or another of them steps in to help with SBS and me. They each in
their own way have dealt with the deaths of their brother and sister.
I am fortunate to see new people coming to support the work of the Suicide Bereavement Support
groups. I am thankful to all who have been involved with this important work. Sometimes we lean on
each other and sometimes we are really support for each other.
Virginia Bender, Feb 2014
Thanks to our dedicated Volunteer Facilitators who give their time and energy to provide support for those who come to the Support Groups.
NE Portland – meetings are on the 3 rd Monday at 7 pm
The Peace House – 2116 NE 18 th Ave
Gresham – meetings are on the 1 st Thursday at 7 pm
St Henry’s Catholic Church School Building – 346 NW 1 st Street
SW Portland – meetings are on the 1 st & 3 rd Thursdays at 6 pm
Portland Church – 125 SW Miles St
Clackamas County – meetings are on the 2 nd and 4 th Sundays 2 pm
Clackamas County NAMI office – 10202 SE 32 nd Ave Suite 501
Vancouver – meetings are held on the 1 st Saturday 2 pm
Fair Oaks Community Room – 5404 NE 121 Ave.
We are pleased to be adding 3 new groups, two in the Bend/Redmond area and a second at Portland State University. Stay tuned for details on these new groups.
100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do: How My Brother Disappeared
by Kim Stafford
Kim Stafford is the son of William Stafford, poet, and 40 year old brother Bret, who died of suicide. In this book he tells 100 stories of he and his brother, trying to make sense of his brother’s death, why??
How many tricks does it take to grow up and survive? From a beautiful childhood, the older brother disappears into depression, leaving the younger to endure the story. 100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do explores memory to find a brother lost to suicide—the saint who teaches his family about depression, violence, and the ultimate quest for harmonious relationships. This deftly written, compassionate memoir offers a paradox about family tragedy. With suicide, Stafford writes, there is collateral damage in every direction, but there is also a chance to learn vital stories behind the shadows of silence, depression, and violent death, and ultimately to recover the lost best friend. 100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do takes the reader through what Stafford calls “the chrysalis of the invisible”—a tunnel of fears, silences, and tragedies—in order to find new life.
Taking its title from a pamphlet Kim Stafford’s brother, Bret, ordered as a kid, 100 Tricks works its own magic in portraying two boys, close in age and inseparable in many ways, against the backdrop of an American family in the 1950s. Bret was the good older son, the obedient public servant, Kim the itinerant wanderer. Their father, poet and pacifist William Stafford, occupies a large presence in the brothers’ lives as they find their ways through boyhood shenanigans and forge identities together into adulthood and then apart, when Bret takes his own life at age forty.
This deftly written, compassionate memoir offers a paradox about family tragedy. With suicide,
Stafford writes, there is collateral damage in every direction, but there is also a chance to learn vital
stories behind the shadows of silence, depression, and violent death, and ultimately to recover the
lost best friend. 100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do takes the reader through what Stafford calls “the
chrysalis of the invisible”—a tunnel of fears, silences, and tragedies—in order to find new life.
Guilt is a common reaction one may experience after a suicide death. You may feel that you
somehow were responsible, that you should have known, you should have been able to stop the
death, that it was your fault, something you did or didn’t do resulted in the persons death. Guilt can be
all consuming and suck the life out of you. Below is one woman’s struggle with guilt and one thing she
did that helped her give up that guilt so she could live her life.
The Guilt Group – Judy Rae
My 27 year old son Ryan took his own life 18 months ago. I found this support group experience to be
immensely helpful to me. Guilt can be one of the most difficult issues to address for survivors. I
listened to others’ stories of their feelings of guilt, and I felt so compassionate toward them. Then it
dawned on me how I was condemning myself so harshly at times for very similar reasons. That
realization caused a tremendous shift in me, and helped me let go of the guilt and feel compassion for
myself, and a more realistic view of my participation in Ryan’s life and death.
In addition to sharing our stories and insights, we also did a few exercises and meditations that I also
found valuable. I would like to share my writing from the exercise — a letter from me to guilt — in the
hopes that it may provide similarly beneficial effects for you as it did for me. I highly recommend the
A Goodbye Letter to Guilt
Dear My Guilt,
Letter I have realized that we must break up……
To Guilt You can serve a small purpose in people’s lives, but
you are now out of control. I am not as powerful as
you think I am. You are terrorizing me with the
responsibility you think I have; the power you think I
wield. You are also stealing away my ability to live
my life and be a good loving force for my family and
friends, not to mention my confidence in myself. You
are stealing away my chance for goodness and love
in my life going forward. I have to live here now and
be the best person I can, no matter what has
happened, and I can’t do that with you commanding
so much of my thoughts and attention. Therefore, I
have made a decision to limit your influence on me
by letting you go. I know you originally had good
intentions, (to improve me) but you have gone too far
and I will not let you destroy my life. My son Ryan
would not have wanted that for me.
You must go!
(reprinted from Catholic Charities Loss Newsletter Nov 2013 catholiccharities.net/loss)
From April 2011 – June 2013 202 people in Portland have died of Suicide. That is 34 per 100,000 or three times the national rate, 7.5 suicide deaths per month, or one every 4 days, according to the Portland Police Bureau. There are nearly twice as many suicide deaths as homicides and traffic fatalities combined.
In Oregon, the rate is 35% higher than the national average, 15.2 per 100,000 compared to the national rate of11.3 per 100.000. “Suicide deaths are one of the most persistent yet preventable public health concerns. It is the leading cause of death from injuries – more than even car crashes. Each year 550 people die from suicide and 1,800 people are hospitalized from non-fatal attempts” Lisa Millet, Oregon Public Health.
The number of deaths is heartbreaking. The single most identifiable risk factor is depression, and although not all people coping with depression are suicidal, stress and crisis can overwhelm a depressed person’s ability to cope with life challenges. Stresses such as job loss, life transitions, loss of income, home family or friends, (veterans returning home from deployment) – all increase the likelihood of a suicide death among those already at risk.
Family and friends can support those struggling by being aware of risk factors and being present helping them find the appropriate resources such as counseling or medication.
We are thrilled and extremely grateful to receive a
- A grant from Portland General Electric Foundation. Thank you to Gwyneth Gamble Booth. With this generous donation we will be able to continue the great work of SBS including supporting people in groups, through phone calls, and in local training and interventions about suicide deaths.
We also want to thank all for the following people for their generous gifts:
- Candace Marquardt’s gift was matched by Quantum Data Solutions
- Patricia Wright: In memory of Courtney Ann Wright
- Sandy Trevillian: In memory of Treeka Trevillian We love and miss her so much, Love Mom and Dad
- Sheryl McMahon
- Alison Wesley: In memory of Duncan Wood-Walker
- Nan Swartz: In memory of Gus
- Kay Robertson: In memory of Bryan
- Carma Thurston: In memory of Aaron Thurston
- Virginia Bender: In memory of Barbara Strayer
If you are interested in helping with the important work of helping those after a suicide death, let us know. We are specifically looking for folks to facilitate support groups, Training is provided and those who facilitate find it a very rewarding venture.
Phone Number: 503-200-0382
Suicide Bereavement Support Inc
PO Box 2525
Portland, OR 97208
Suicide Bereavement Support Inc
PO Box 2525
Portland, OR 97208