Grieving is not linear, nor limited to death. If anyone knows, it’s grief educator LeTanndra Thompson.
Thompson is from northern Alabama and graduated from UNA in 2009. She earned a degree in social work and began working with Safeplace, a local domestic violence shelter. She began working toward a master’s degree from Alabama A&M a year later. UNA only offered a master’s degree in social work in 2020. She is currently pursuing a second master’s degree in thanatology, the study of death, agony, and bereavement.
Thompson wears a lot of hats. She is a licensed social worker, stay-at-home mom, entrepreneur, and part-time substitute teacher. She educates others about grief through her business, Renewed Minds Grief Education and Grief Support Services. She has been certified in grief education through the David Kessler training program.
“My goal is to educate the community about grief and hopefully be able to provide support,” Thompson said.
When Thompson was 12, her mother was diagnosed with brain cancer. When she was 15, her mother died. Before his death, his mother was hospitalized. It was the first time Thompson had met a hospice social worker. She knew she wanted to do this with her life too.
“Since my mother died, I’ve realized that people don’t really talk about [grief]”Thompson said. “Nobody really asked me about my grief. Nobody really checked on me. I never had any counseling or therapy or anything like that afterwards. I didn’t know what I needed at the time, but I knew I didn’t feel right. I knew I needed help coping with my mother’s death.
She started learning about grief and mental health, trying to figure out how to help herself. She didn’t know what her grief was supposed to look like.
“I started searching the internet trying to figure out what to do,” Thompson said. “It sparked my interest in not only trying to help myself, but also trying to help others and getting others to be more comfortable talking about their grief so they can heal. ‘help themselves and others so no one feels like they have to cry alone.’
Thompson’s goal is to normalize the grieving process. Grieving is a normal, albeit difficult, part of life.
“I think grief is an underlying factor in many mental health issues that we face,” Thompson said. “To think that, even if it’s not related to death, people suffer from depression and other types of mental health problems because of a certain time of loss that they have experienced. There are so many losses people can complain about.
Grieving unrelated to death is no stranger to Thompson. In August 2015, while pregnant with her first child, she was diagnosed with anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. Disease occurs when antibodies attack NMDA receptors in the brain and can cause tumors in the ovaries. Thompson personally has no recollection of the months she spent in the hospital, but her husband has published a book about her experiences. At the time, she was only two months pregnant.
The disease posed a threat to the pregnancy itself. To treat it, she needed chemotherapy, steroids and a plasma transfusion. The decision to perform an emergency caesarean section at 28 weeks was finally made. Doctors removed the source of the encephalitis – a tumor on her right ovary.
Thompson experienced bouts of psychosis while affected. She was hospitalized for four months and finally discharged on December 31, 2015.
“I recovered, but things got worse before they got better,” Thompson said. “The psychosis has gone really bad. I never thought I would ever go through any type of psychosis. [The hospitalization] left me in pretty bad shape. Physically, I had lost almost 50 to 60 pounds. I weighed about 150 pounds before I got sick. Then I went down to 97 pounds.
According to Thompson, the worst part of her illness was the aftereffects. She developed depression.
“As a social worker, I was a little ashamed of [my depression]”, Thompson said. “I was like, ‘I’m a social worker. How dare I be depressed. Why am I like this? I can never be a social worker again. I’m too depressed. not raising my child because I’m depressed. We learn a lot about depression in school, but going through depression was the most eye-opening thing. No matter how much I studied it in school, going through it was the worse.
She saw a lot of misconceptions about mental illness firsthand. Reassurances that she and her son were alive did not help, as she was still in pain inside. It opened her eyes to how society interprets mental health. For Thompson, people don’t realize the lack of control they have over their mental illnesses. His own depression lasted two years.
“I was never suicidal, but it got to the point where some days I hated to see the sun come up,” she said. “I didn’t want to see the sun come up because it meant it was another day I had to go through. It meant it was another day for people to try to call me or try to get me out of the house or try to get me to do things I just wasn’t ready to do. I was not suicidal; I wasn’t ready to hurt myself, but there was a moment when I was like, “God, if I don’t wake up tomorrow, I’m fine.”
Thompson was in mourning. She was mourning the loss of her pregnancy, as she had little or no memory of it and had longed for a pregnancy. Her son spent four months in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). She also mourned the loss of her job. She had started working her dream job as a hospice social worker just a month before falling ill.
“One thing that was most important was the loss of time,” Thompson said. “It’s something that people really don’t think about. We think about all these different losses. I really feel like I missed four months of my life.
Using her own experiences, Thompson is able to further educate people about mental health and loss. She has a deeper understanding of depression through her loss. It’s not just death-related losses. Although she did not experience depression after her mother’s death, she did after suffering many losses from her illness. She even felt a loss of identity, as she had lost everything that made her feel like herself.
“I wouldn’t want to go through that again, but I’m grateful for the meaning I got out of it,” Thompson said. “I don’t think people get punished for things. I believe that life happens and sometimes we have to hope that we can get through it. With the right support and help, we can.
She was planning RenewedMinds when she fell ill. This further motivated her to educate others. As time passed and she started going to therapy, she began to have a better sense of how she wanted to help others. She also realized how difficult therapy can be for people. Therapy is the kind of thing someone has to be completely ready for, according to Thompson. It took him some time to prepare to ask for help.
In the black community itself, Thompson feels this difficulty is magnified. It’s not uncommon to want to feel some sort of commonality with a therapist.
“Especially in the black community, we’re often taught that what happens in our home stays in our home,” Thompson said. “We are taught that we are supposed to be strong. Someone asked me, “What happened to that strong person you were? »… Grieving does not discriminate. Death makes no distinction. However, historically, grief in the black community has been associated with discrimination and other forms of injustice. Grieving is already complex, which makes it unique for each person even if they live in the same household and experience the same grief. So when you have the added layer of discrimination and injustice, it can make it even more difficult to manage.
Dr. Larry Bates is a psychology professor. He has been at the UNA for 23 and a half years. He earned a master’s degree in clinical psychology with a minor in psychopharmacology from Auburn University.
“I think we’re starting to accept that culture has a much bigger impact on mental illness than we thought in the past,” Bates said. “Culture defines what we call ‘normal’ or ‘abnormal’, it socializes us to believe that mental illnesses are more or less problematic, that treatment is acceptable or unacceptable, and that people with these disorders are ridiculed or rescued. Therapists provide treatment within their areas of expertise, and in recent years we have begun to consider cultural competence as part of this, recognizing that just because I can treat depression in most clients does not mean I necessarily have to treat depression in clients with whom perhaps I clearly do not understand their habits and values, at least not without additional supervision or training. »
Along with culture, race plays some role in the prevalence of mental illness. Of course, some disorders affect some people more or less based on genetics, not just race. The main factors in the diagnosis of mental health are, among others, biology, psychology and the environment.
“Perhaps the biggest issue is what happens when someone with a mental illness goes from that illness to recovery,” Bates said. “Whites use mental health services at about twice the rate of those of blacks and Hispanics. This could be due to higher rates of mental illness among white people, or something else. Mental health treatment options are generally not inexpensive, and there are clear disparities in the medical insurance that covers these treatments. Asian Americans tend to have a lower prevalence of mental illnesses and lower use of mental health services. But in all of this, again, we don’t know whether actual rates of disorder are lower, whether therapists are biased for or against the idea of giving certain diagnoses to certain races, whether there is a greater shame or less acceptance of mental illness among different cultures. , or it’s something else we can’t see yet.