When extended families,religious rituals,and ethnic traditions were the norm, mourners received ample support from their culture. As assimilation and alienation pervaded American society, people became removed from necessary support systems, from a caring community. With no secular mourning rituals to serve as guides through grief, and no known formalized way to complete the emotional relationship with the deceased, mental health professionals saw symptoms of depression in the bereaved population.
Various services for the bereaved were initiated in the mid-sixties. Telephone “hot lines” were established by hospitals and community agencies. Phyllis Silverman, at Harvard Medical Laboratories, established a Widowedto-Widowed program,where a professionally trained widow reaches out to a newly widowed member of her community on a one-to-one basis. In the early seventies, groups of parents who lost children to leukemia formed a national support network, as did parents whose babies succumbed to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. By the midseventies most major cities had one or more programs for bereavement counseling services.
Bereavement counseling is now a clearly defined subcategory within the mental health professions. The symptoms of depression experienced by a mourner are no longer judged pathological but rather as legitimate, time-limited responses to a profound loss.
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