Peter H Brown Clinical Psychologist

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Mothers’ Day: Coping With Grief & Loss

Credit: Kelly Brewington, The Baltimore Sun

It had been nearly 40 years since Linn Holt lost her mother, but some days, the pain was as unbearable as the day she died. Family gatherings were heartbreaking, Mother’s Days were miserable. And on every anniversary of her mother’s death, Holt would stay home in bed, hibernating from the world, swelling with grief.

It wasn’t normal, she thought. She needed help.

Three years ago, Holt attended a seminar on Mother’s Day weekend for people struggling with the loss of their mothers. She realized she wasn’t alone.

For more than a decade, the workshop at the Stella Maris Center for Grief and Loss in Timonium has been helping people confront and cope with the loss of their mothers during a trying time of year. From faith services honoring mothers to the endless loop of TV ads pushing “that special gift for Mom,” it’s a day most people can’t avoid if they tried.

Instead of trying to escape it, workshops like the one at Stella Maris encourage people to embrace the day as a way to honor and celebrate their mothers’ memories.

“We hope they can begin to face Mother’s Day head on and find that it can be joyful; it can be a day to honor with love,” said Doreen Horan, manager of bereavement services at Stella Maris, who has led the workshop for six years.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s the first Mother’s Day since a mother died or the 40th; there is no expiration date on grief, say grief counselors.

“People tend to think you get through all the first anniversaries and you’re healed,” said Robin Stocksdale, bereavement services manager at Gilchrist Hospice Care. “But anything can kick up those memories and those feelings. It does tend to get a little easier with time, but you don’t get over it. You learn to get through it.”

Holt, 58, of Baltimore, was 15 when her mother died of Hodgkin’s disease. As the only daughter left at home, Holt inherited the cooking, cleaning and responsibilities of caring for the household. Her father shut down emotionally, and her brother was just 7 years old. Holt had to stay strong and keep everyone together, she said.

“My whole world came to a crushing end,” she said. “And I couldn’t talk about it. It was done, it was over, and I was expected to move on.”

At her first workshop three years ago, Holt was asked to do things that were foreign to her: write in a journal about her feelings; listen to classical music; and use colored pencils to draw recollections of her mother.

“I thought, ‘What, are you crazy? I don’t just sit down and write. What do you want me to say?’ ” she said. “But I tried it. I realized I had a lot of anger and frustration. And I left feeling that it’s OK to feel this way. It’s OK to be 56 years old and ticked off that your mother isn’t here.”

During Horan’s workshop, participants spend half the time writing in journals and drawing, and the rest listening to classical music designed to evoke warm memories. Attendees can share their reflections, but they don’t have to.

“The point is for us to realize that life will not go on in the same way without our mothers — if it did, it would conclude their lives meant nothing and had no contribution,” she said. “It’s for us to talk about that, process that and move forward.”

Channeling hurt feelings into something positive is key to coping with grief, said Penny Graf, a social worker at the cancer institute at St. Joseph Medical Center. People should try to honor their mothers on Mother’s Day, either with an activity that their mother would have enjoyed or by spending time with family.

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Even so, there’s no quick way to “get over it” said Stocksdale. Sharing feelings with someone who will listen is a start, she said.

Holt thinks that has helped her enormously. After therapy and two years of Mother’s Day workshops, she’s looking forward to helping others during this year’s event.

“I have learned to look at the things my mother taught me in the short years I was blessed to have her in my life and not the loss of not having her,” she said. When she’s down, Holt listens to music, writes in her journal or pulls out a photo of her mother.

“These are things I learned to do that have helped,” she said. “Maybe I can pass this on to somebody who is going through this for the first time.”

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May 7, 2010 Posted by | Age & Ageing, depression, mood, Seniors | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mid Life – What’s The Crisis?: Why Self Esteem Peaks In The Middle-Aged

Credit: LiveScience

Read the original research article HERE (PDF)

Bad vision and other physical ailments aren’t the only things that seem to get worse as people grow old. Self-esteem also declines around the age of retirement, a new study finds.

The study involved 3,617 American men and women ranging in age from 25 to 104. Self-esteem was lowest among young adults, but increased throughout adulthood, peaking at age 60, before it started to decline.

Several factors might explain this trend, the researchers say.

“Midlife is a time of highly stable work, family and romantic relationships. People increasingly occupy positions of power and status, which might promote feelings of self-esteem,” said study author Richard Robins of the University of California, Davis. “In contrast, older adults may be experiencing a change in roles such as an empty nest, retirement and obsolete work skills in addition to declining health.”

Measuring self-esteem

The participants were surveyed four times between 1986 and 2002. They were asked to rate their level of agreement with statements such as: “I take a positive attitude toward myself,” which suggests high self-esteem; “At times I think I am no good at all,” and “All in all, I am inclined to feel that I am a failure,” which both suggest low self-esteem.

Subjects also indicated their demographics, relationship satisfaction, and whether they had experienced stressful life events, including suddenly losing a job, being the victim of a violent crime, or experiencing the death of a parent or child.

On average, women had lower self-esteem than men throughout most of adulthood, but self-esteem levels converged as men and women reached their 80s and 90s. Blacks and whites had similar self-esteem levels throughout young adulthood and middle age. In old age, average self-esteem among blacks dropped much more sharply than self-esteem among whites. This result held even after accounting for differences in income and health.

Future research should further explore these ethnic differences, which might lead to better interventions aimed at improving self-esteem, the study authors say.

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More self-esteem factors

Education, income, health and employment status all had some effect on the self-esteem trajectories, especially as people aged.

“People who have higher incomes and better health in later life tend to maintain their self-esteem as they age,” Orth said.

“We cannot know for certain that more wealth and better health directly lead to higher self-esteem, but it does appear to be linked in some way. For example, it is possible that wealth and health are related to feeling more independent and better able to contribute to one’s family and society, which in turn bolsters self-esteem.”

People of all ages in satisfying and supportive relationships tend to have higher self-esteem, according to the findings.

However, despite maintaining higher self-esteem throughout their lives, people in happy relationships experienced the same drop in self-esteem during old age as people in unhappy relationships.

“Thus, being in a happy relationship does not protect a person against the decline in self-esteem that typically occurs in old age,” said study author Kali H. Trzesniewski of the University of Western Ontario.

With medical advances, the drop in self-esteem might occur later for baby boomers, Orth said. Boomers might be healthier for longer and, therefore, able to work and earn money longer.

Read the original research article HERE (PDF)

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April 6, 2010 Posted by | Age & Ageing, Books, Cognition, depression, Education, Health Psychology, research, Resilience, Resources, Seniors | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Only As Young Or Old As You Feel?: When Does Youth End & Old Age Start?

Source: University of Kent, UK: 15 March 2010

Professor Dominic Abrams and Dr Melanie Vauclair from the School of Psychology  at the University of Kent will present findings from the European Social Survey’s research project ‘Attitudes to Age in the UK and Europe’ during an event at City University, London, on Monday 15 March.

Titled What do the British think about… ageism, political institutions and welfare?, this Economic and Social Research Council  (ESRC) event will consist of an information seminar and an online demonstration of how to access and use the European Social Survey (ESS) data archive, currently comprising 21 European countries and more than 40,000 respondents.

With a steadily growing proportion of older people in the UK and Europe, the 2008 ESS included a module that examined how people perceive and feel about their own and other age groups.

Professor Abrams explained: ‘The survey showed that age prejudice – being treated as ‘too young’ or ‘too old’ – is perceived to be a serious or very serious issue by 63 per cent of respondents, so it is obviously important to know what these age labels mean to people’. To find out, the survey asked when does ‘youth’ end and ‘old age’ begin? For the UK, the average response to this question was that youth ends at the age of 35 and old age begins at 58.

However, the survey also revealed that people’s judgements depend strongly on the ‘age of the beholder’. On average, the youngest respondents (15 to 24-year old) judged that youth ends at 28 and old age starts at 54, whereas the oldest age group (80 and older) judged that youth ends at 42 and old age starts at 67.

In the UK, there is a gap of almost 40 years between young people’s judgement of the end of youth and older people’s judgement of the beginning of old age. However, more startlingly, there is a gap of only 12 years between older people’s judgement of the end of youth and younger people’s judgement of the start of old age.

In general, men regarded the end of youth and start of old age to begin two years earlier than women did.

There were also large differences between European countries. Youth was perceived to end earliest among respondents in Portugal (at the age of 29) and latest by those in Cyprus (at the age of 45). Portugal scored lowest for the belief when old age starts (at the age of 51), whereas Belgium ranked highest (at the age 64).

The findings illustrate that when people discover another person’s age, their judgement of whether that person is young or old is highly subjective and this may have important implications in influencing people’s assumptions about the person’s responsibilities, rights and capabilities.

Professor Abrams said: ‘This evidence shows that what counts as young and old is very largely down to the age of the beholder.’

Amongst other findings, the survey also showed that 28 per cent of UK respondents reported that they had been treated with prejudice because of their age in the past year and that the youngest age group were more likely to report experiences of prejudice than any other. Across the European countries in the survey, age prejudice was most widely reported in Finland (47 per cent) and least so in Cyprus and Portugal (19 per cent). The UK ranked 16 out of 21 countries in regard to this question.

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March 17, 2010 Posted by | Age & Ageing, Cognition, Education, Seniors, Social Psychology | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment