Maureen Underwood Articles

The Loss of A Child to Suicide: Complicated Pain

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

The loss of a child is an unspeakable trauma. When that death is caused by suicide, the pain becomes more complicated.suicide man crying

There are 39,000 deaths a year by suicide. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in the United States among 19-14 year olds and 15-14 year olds, and the second leading cause among 25-34 year olds. Spanning the ages, each of those who have taken their lives is someone’s child.

On hearing of the suicide of her 18-year-old son, singer Marie Osmond shares, “I thought someone had run a knife into my heart.”

The agony of losing a child by suicide is complicated by a number of factors:


Could My Child Be Depressed? Important Answers

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

NEW BOOKWhile we often associate depression with the teen years, the recognition and treatment of depression in children is more easily overlooked.

  • She’s a kid—she’ll grow out of it.
  • He’s just moody–don’t make a big thing out of it.
  • It’s just a stage.

According to Dr. Deborah Serani, author of the new book, Depression and Your Child, it is only recently that we recognize that children, even babies, experience depression.


The Family Story of Trauma: Ways to Change the Legacy

Sunday, February 17th, 2013

family story of traumaWhether in the past or the present, a traumatic event experienced by one or all members of a family, impacts the entire family system. Be it the violent loss of a child, the devastation from natural disaster, the injury of a combat vet or the suicide of a family member, trauma assaults the lives of all family members and the legacy they share.

How Does a Family Cope?

One of the most important things a family can do in the aftermath of a traumatic event is to find a way over the days, months and even years “to speak about what happened.”

All families engage in story telling. Around the dinner table, in car pools, at holidays, in the middle of the night, family members share the day-to-day experiences of big and small events in their lives. Through the stories they tell, families create the fabric of their life and their legacy.

Why is it Difficult for Families to Speak About Trauma?

  • Families have a difficult time speaking about traumatic events because traumatic events assault the fabric of family life.
  • They are unexpected events that threaten, injure, and take the life that was known and the people that were loved.
  • They leave family members overwhelmed, frightened, angry, haunted with images, self-blaming, and bereft.
  • They are beyond what family members can physically and emotionally comprehend.
  •  Traumatic events feel “beyond words”.

Family Protection Through Silence and Avoidance

Given this impact of trauma, the inclination of many family members is to protect each other by not speaking about the trauma.In an effort to spare others from more pain, prevent the stirring of feelings, avoid contaminating with traumatic memories, or burdening the family with grief, both adults and children disavow history, deny feelings and often avoid connection. The myth is that “if we don’t talk about it we can live beyond it.”

Historically we know that the opposite is true. As  trauma expert, Cathy Caruth says, trauma “will out” in one way or another in spite of being silenced or denied. What can’t be said must be carried and acted out.


Recognizing and Understanding Depression After Trauma

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

depression after traumaDisaster and trauma studies often focus on identifying the incidence of PTSD as the sequel to traumatic events.

Early interventions with those affected after a disaster or traumatic event increasingly utilize psycho-education to clarify and normalize common post-traumatic stress reactions and coping strategies.

While mentioned as a possible response, the high incidence of depression after trauma is less delineated and often goes unrecognized by those suffering.

Depression Occurs after Trauma:

  • A Rand corporation study reports that nearly 20 percent of military service members who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan – 300,000 in all – report symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or major depression.
  • In the first long-term study of the health impacts of the World Trade Center (WTC) collapse on September 11, 2001, findings indicate that seven percent of police officers were diagnosed with depression, nine percent with PTSD and eight percent with panic disorder. Twenty eight percent of other rescue and recovery workers had symptoms of depression.
  • A survey of survivors from the Oklahoma City bombing showed that 23% had depression after the bombing.
  • Depression affects approximately 15 percent to 25 percent of cancer patients.
  • After a myocardial infarction, the incidence of major depression is from 15 percent to 20 percent, and an additional 27 percent of patients develop minor depression.

Both major depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) occur frequently following traumatic exposure, both as separate disorders and concurrently.

Depression is the most common disorder suffered in conjunction with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Depression is nearly three to five times more likely in those with PTSD than those without PTSD.


Does Hope Really Make a Difference? Scientific Findings

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

Almost everyone has some experience with hope: We hope for the best. We hang on to hope. We despair when we lose hope.

It would seem that hope, which is broadly defined as an emotional state that promotes the belief in a positive outcome, is in inherent in human nature.

Reflections of the importance of hope are found in early mythology, religion, philosophy and literature.

Pandora, although forbidden, opened the box given to her by Zeus, and in a moment, all the curses were released into the world and all the blessing escaped and were lost- except one: hope.

“To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.” ― The King James Version of the Bible

“Hope is a waking dream.” –Aristotle

“Where there is no hope, it is incumbent on us to invent it.” -Albert Camus

“Hope is that thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops — at all.” -Emily Dickinson

Clearly we need hope, but even as we embrace it we often wonder – Does hope really make a difference? Is it myth, fiction, collective denial?

There is actually increasing scientific evidence that hope changes us psychologically and physiologically – that it makes a difference.


Mental Health Day: Suicide Protection Across Generations

Monday, October 10th, 2011

don't jump signSuicide ranks as the eleventh leading cause of death in the United States. We have lost loved ones across the generations.

  • Older Americans are disproportionately likely to die by suicide. Although they comprise only 12 percent of the U.S. population, people age 65 and older accounted for 16 percent of suicide deaths in 2004.
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death in college students and the third leading cause of death in adolescents.  Every day 14 teens take their own lives.
  •  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for the second year in a row, middle -aged adults have the highest suicide rate in the country, surpassing even older Americans.

While there are many factors that contribute to suicide, an important new study identifies two factors that have been associated with increased risk for suicidal thought and behavior across the lifespan – hopelessness and lack of connectedness to others.


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Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP & Dianne Kane, DSW are the authors of Healing Together: A Couple's Guide to Coping with Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress. Pick up the book today!

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