Many people are experiencing grief during the COVID-19 pandemic. Grief is a normal response to a loss during or after a disaster or other traumatic event. Grief can happen in response to the loss of life, as well as to drastic changes to daily routines and ways of life that usually bring us comfort and a feeling of stability. Common grief reactions include shock, disbelief, denial, anxiety, distress, anger, periods of sadness, loss of sleep, and loss of appetite.
Some people may experience multiple losses during a disaster or large-scale emergency event. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you might be unable to be with a loved one, or unable to mourn someone’s death in-person with friends and family. Other types of loss include unemployment, or not making enough money, loss or reduction in support services, and other changes in your lifestyle. These losses can happen at the same time, which can complicate or prolong grief and delay a person’s ability to adapt, heal, and recover.
Adolescents may also experience grief in ways that are both similar to and different than children and adults. Adolescents may experience significant changes in their sleep patterns, isolate themselves more, frequently appear irritable or frustrated, withdraw from usual activities, or engage more frequently with technology. It is important for parents or caregivers to engage with their adolescents over their grief to promote healthy coping and acceptance. Parents may also need to obtain mental health services for the adolescent and family to deal with grief.
Grieving the loss of a loved one while coping with the fear and anxiety related to the COVID-19 pandemic can be especially overwhelming. Social distancing, “stay-at home-orders,” and limits on the size of in-person gatherings have changed the way friends and family can gather and grieve, including holding traditional funeral services, regardless of whether or not the person’s death was due to COVID-19. However, these types of prevention strategies are important to slow the spread of the disease.
During the pandemic, the family and close friends of a person who died of COVID-19 may experience stigma, such as social avoidance or rejection. Stigma hurts everyone by creating fear or anger towards other people. Some people may avoid contacting you, your family members, and friends when they would normally reach out to you. Stigma related to COVID-19 is less likely to occur when people know the facts and share them with extended family, friends, and others in their community.
Children may show grief differently than adults. Children may have a particularly hard time understanding and coping with the loss of a loved one. Sometimes children appear sad and talk about missing the person or act out. Other times, they play, interact with friends, and do their usual activities. As a result of measures taken to limit the spread of COVID-19, they may also grieve over loss of routines such as going to school and playing with friends. Parents and other caregivers play an important role in helping children process their grief.
Signs that children may need additional assistance include changes in their behavior such as acting out, not interested in daily activities, changes in eating and sleeping habits, persistent anxiety, sadness, or depression. You should speak to your child’s healthcare provider if troubling reactions seem to go on too long, interfere with school or relationships with friends or family, or if you are unsure of or concerned about how your child is doing.