Study finds widespread grief among children after COVID-19 loss
Study finds widespread grief among children after COVID-19 loss

Study finds widespread grief among children after COVID-19 loss

However, the results of this small study are still telling, and data from elsewhere document the prevalence of childhood loss, which can affect mental health and school performance.

Imperial College London discretion that nearly 200,000 children in the United States have lost one or both parents. Worldwide, there were numbers estimated to 5.2 million. pr. October. In Massachusetts, more than 1,700 people died in their best parenting years, with the largest toll falls on colored people.

Losing a parent in childhood can have profound and lasting consequences. ONE recent study found that such children tend to perform poorly in school and are less likely to continue their education after high school.

Eight out of 10 respondents to the P / PAL survey said their child’s behavior got worse during the pandemic, and 44 percent said their children lost ground or became more immature. Two-thirds said children also felt grief over other types of losses, such as after-school activities, sports and social groups. As a result of the many losses during the pandemic, two-thirds of those surveyed said their children experienced increased anxiety and more than half had increased anger or irritability.

And yet, Lambert said, children’s grief gets some attention. She recalled that she raised the issue with a group of mental health providers at a recent meeting. At first they were quiet. Then they mentioned that grief comes up in individual conversations. But it was not addressed at a broad public health level, she said. Schools, Lambert said, “are not equipped for grief-informed care.”

When asked what help was needed, three-quarters of respondents called for more personal connection and support from the community or spiritual groups. Four out of 10 wanted more access to child therapy, and a third called for more support in schools.

Sarah DeCosta, head of grief support at HopeHealth, an Attleboro-based hospice agency, said the agency’s support groups have seen a lot of children affected by COVID-19.

Although caused by an illness, COVID-19 deaths feel like traumatic deaths “because it happened so fast and it’s so prevalent,” said DeCosta, a licensed mental health consultant who was not involved in the P / PAL study.

Cut off from friends, teachers and relatives in the early days of the pandemic, children also lost the social connections that can help them cope, she said. “It really complicated this kind of grief for children,” she said.

Parents and caregivers sometimes mistakenly believe that children grieve less than adults because children express their grief differently. They often have a hard time finding the words for their feelings. They can be engulfed by other activities, though sadness smolder unseen, and later erupt into unexpected behavior.

Grief “can certainly exacerbate pre-existing mental health problems,” especially anxiety, DeCosta said.

In itself, grief can cause anxiety. “For a child who has anxiety or even anxiety tendencies, it can feel swollen, more intense,” she said. They may fear their own death or the death of another loved one.

For Brianna Angela, who lost her beloved grandfather, José Araujo, in May 2020, the anxiety she had always felt as she returned to high school in Lincoln, RI intensified. She saw her classmates with their masks hanging under her nose or chin tingling her fears.

So, when the mask mandate was lifted, “I went into a panic attack. I was stuck in the counseling office and just crying.” It did not help that her desire to continue wearing her own mask led to the mockery of classmates, who called her a “sheep” and a “coward.”

Brianna said her grief has taken her on a roller coaster. Her grandfather had often been hospitalized, but always managed despite the doctors’ gloomy predictions. So when Araujo came down with COVID-19, Brianna expected a similar comeback. Instead, he died at a HopeHealth hospice before the family could visit him. “It was very soul-crushing,” she said.

At first she was in shock and did not quite believe what had happened. But when the reality that he never came back finally sank in, Brianna said, “I would go through waves in the middle of the night and think of him and cry in bed and miss him.” For a time, she could not even draw, once a soothing pastime. Her grandfather had shared her interest in art, and they used to work on drawings together.

Brianna has a close friend who lost an aunt and a grandmother to COVID-19, and she comforts herself by talking to him. She also feels better chatting with other friends, not necessarily about her grandfather, but “just talking to them so you can feel happy.” Writing in his diary, playing games with his family and listening to music calms everything.

These days, Brianna, now 14, can talk about her grandfather without crying. She cries sometimes at night, but not as much as before. “I do not think it’s something I get rid of,” she said of her grief. “It’s something I want to be able to learn to grow with.”

“I think of him almost daily,” she said. “Sometimes it’s bitter and sad, and other times I’m happy – I want to remember something he said … and the things he did for me and my family.”

Children “do not get over” the death of a loved one, said DeCosta of HopeHealth, but their grief changes as they heal.

Grief is love for someone who has died, she said. “They’re going to love that person forever, so they’re going to grieve forever,” DeCosta said. “They want to get to a place where they are able to participate more in life and get to enjoy it.”

Brianna gives this advice to other grieving children: “Things will never be completely healed, but they will get better and you will get better. You will be able to be happy again. You will remember [the deceased] in a good way.”


Felice J. Freyer can be met at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @felicejfreyer.


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