We still mourn the economy we lost
As the country approaches a third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the loss, stress, and insecurity caused by the virus have claimed many Americans. And while some people get the help they need, not everyone can say they are not doing well.
“I think we’ve made some progress,” said psychotherapist Megan Devine. “But I definitely believe that we haven’t turned the ship all over yet.”
Devine is the author of “It’s okay that you’re not doing well: encounter grief and loss in a culture that doesn’t understand” and is the host of “Here after with Megan Devine” a podcast dealing with the experiences of psychologists.
Last December, Devine spoke to Marketplace host Kimberly Adams about how grief manifests itself in the economy. “Marketplace” got back to Devine to see how that manifestation has changed after another year. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Kimberly Adams: When we spoke a year ago, you said that as a country we were getting better and better at admitting losses. But you didn’t say we’re better at grieving Where do you think we are now
Megan Devine: I think the wave of recognition is spreading. [As for] I think we made some progress. But I think for a fact that we haven’t turned the ship all over yet.
Adams: And what are the consequences if you haven’t made it to the next step?
Divine: Oh that is good. This kind of reluctance to tell the truth about grief manifests itself in suicidality, addiction, loneliness, depression. It shows up in pretty much any social or cultural area, so once we start to really tell the truth about grief and what works and what doesn’t, many things will improve.
Adams: You mentioned that it shows in our social and cultural interactions, but also at work.
Divine: Yes, [they’re] not just the effects of grief on death, but kind of a broad spectrum of how hard it is to be human in many different ways. I mean, we have moral problems, huge moral problems certainly in certain industries. They also know sick days or the economic toll of depression. I’ve been thinking about how this flips the script around our view of the effects of mental health and wellbeing in business or in the business world. We believe that we need people who are happy, healthy, and productive members of society in order to improve the bottom line, and in my experience, the opposite is true. The more we allow the full range of human emotionality – and thus not just happy and productive – [then] even more so that we apply skills to human interpersonal relationships and grief and loss. The ramifications of revising our understanding of and dealing with human emotional reality, the ramifications of doing it better and more correctly, are simply immeasurable.
Adams: Speaking of ripple effects when we think of the sheer number of people who died in the pandemic – COVID-19 deaths, those who died from lack of access to care when hospitals were full, substance abuse-related deaths – this has the ripple effect that only a large part of the country is actively mourning the loss of friends and family. What does this mean for the grief counseling industry?
Divine: Oh, that’s such a good question. I can say that therapists, social workers and psychiatrists are overwhelmed and overwhelmed. At a time when people are leaving the industry for multiple reasons, there is tremendous pressure and demand for psychosocial support. And they swim in the same sea too [so to speak] And go through all these losses And then, I think, we run into the unfortunate reality that most clinicians are not trained to deal with grief in a truly skillful and insightful way, and certainly not with grief on that scale. It’s a really difficult moment for this industry.
Adams: When we talked earlier, we talked about mourning the old economy, and then we never expected we’d still be here. And I wonder what the consequences of that, especially in terms of how good we are as a country, the processing that we’re probably not doing again the way things were?
Divine: Yes. If we look at what very often happens to people mourning a death, then if it’s the second year that it somehow settles in, oh, that doesn’t change. And it is around this time that people for this grieving person begin to live their own lives. You get back to things thinking that their grieving friend or family member should be better off by now. I think we live in it as a culture. We can’t tell ourselves that it will get better in six months. We do not know that. And so it’s more about how we live with uncertainty in a way that feels unifying, and what do we want to do to help ourselves live what is asked of us to live?
Adams: What strategies are there for this?
Divine: Well, I think the very first thing – and it covers pretty much everything we’ve talked about – is telling the truth. I think my biggest problem with dealing with grief in decades has been lying about it, right? Pretending we’re okay when we aren’t and it seems counterproductive or counterintuitive. For example, “Wait a minute, I’m just supposed to say that things suck and then get better?” Well, in a way, yes. Right? Telling the truth about what we are struggling with firstly makes us feel like we can connect with other people because we are not pretending to be different, and secondly, we can better assess what is difficult when we are know what is difficult to change, where we need more support and where we need more connection.
Here are some grief resources from Megan Devine.
The powerful Website has multiple communities organized according to different types of losses.
The dinner party provides support and fellowship for those in grief, usually under the age of 35.
Grief coach is a text-based support created by grief professionals to assist grievers and provide strategies for family members and friends of a grieving person.
Talking grief houses the PBS documentation of the same name, which can be streamed free of charge on the website.
Free mom hugs provides support for the LBGTQ community, especially those wrestling with unsupportive families.
The safe place is a mental health app focused on the black community.
Be here, human, which was co-founded by two women of color, focuses on grief in the BIPOC and LGBTQ community.
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, anxiety, or depression, give them a call National lifeline for suicide prevention at 1-800-273-8255 or write to crisisS. Line of text at 741741. How to Find Help Outside the United States