How You are Going In is How You Go Through
October 12, 2022
BY KEN BARRINGER
A great deal of attention, and rightfully so, has been given to the current child and adolescent mental health crisis. Staggering statistics are offered daily detailing the high rates of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation and attempts, hospitalizations and so on. Further, there is a shortage of providers to address this need. The crisis has oft times been connected to onset of the pandemic. However, the child and adolescent mental health crisis existed prior to the pandemic. The pandemic increased the incidents and brought our attention to it. There are children struggling now who were struggling prior to March of 2020. They are struggling more now. Children and adolescents who were “doing well” prior to the pandemic are struggling now as well.
Your mental health prior to the onset of trauma largely influences how you process the traumatic experience. This is very evident in grief. Prior to your loss how was your mental health? If you were prone to depression and then suffered a loss, depression may be guiding you through the process. Same can be true if you happen to be anxious, or compulsive, or isolated or outwardly angry for example. Loss amplifies what is already there. Further, if you have never sought help (for anything, not necessarily behavioral health) going through the grief process and thinking about finding help, may be akin to trying to catch a butterfly in a wind tunnel. It is difficult anyway, but without experiencing seeking help previously, asking for help can get even more complicated and layered.
In my experience someone may come in to counseling under the guise of struggling with a loss, but our work can focus just as much on issues not directly related to the loss. Perhaps the person was trying to negotiate other hard spots in their life and the loss pushed everything over the top. After all, you can start to fill up a water bottle and even when the bottle is getting full it still may be looking ok until you forget to shut the water off. Eventually the bottle overflows. It is so important to recognize the bottle is filling up so that you can cap it. That way when a loss occurs you may have greater awareness that you need to get a new bottle, not keep forcing water into the overflowed bottle.
Conversely, if you are in pretty good mental and physical health, approach days with optimism and use a growth mindset this is how you enter the grief process in the aftermath of a loss. To be clear, a loss of a powerful attachment object (I did not say “loving”, powerful does not necessarily mean loving) is a very difficult and a wrenching experience to navigate. The point is how you are going into it, influences how you go through it. We cannot plan and prepare for everything and every event. However, exercising self-awareness and care while attending to our needs can’t be undervalued. By committing to your mental health when things are ok may go a long way in how you are doing when things are not ok.