Feeling Grief During the COVID-19 Pandemic Is Both Complicated and Normal

Sep 16, 2020

Credit Megan Jamerson/KVCR

As part of KVCR’s series for Suicide Prevention Month called “Wellness for Times of Uncertainty,” we are talking about grief and loss during the coronavirus pandemic.

For most of us when we think of grief, bereavement or the traditional grief that involves mourning the death of a loved one comes to mind. But we actually grieve every kind of loss.

Dr. Veronica Kelley, Director of San Bernardino County’s Department of Behavioral Health says grief is defined as deep sorrow, trouble or annoyance and:

“Today our grief is hitting us on multiple levels,” said Kelley.

Collectively the community has been faced with an unprecedented number of losses during the pandemic. Losses like jobs, financial security, social support, good health, death, and even the fear and anticipation of these losses.

“So we really are losing the world as we know it and that is very impactful," said Kelley. "And so that grief we are experiencing with COVID is impacting each person individually just like regular grief.”

It’s important to first recognize how you cope with feelings. If assessing your feelings is difficult for you that’s ok, you can learn. But all of us should be looking for signs of grief within ourselves like fatigue, anger, trouble concentrating, and even changes in eating and drinking habits.

She says grief can be delayed and lengthy in its impact.  And the kind of grief we are experiencing now is both traumatic and stressful. Both of these things can continue to pile on if we don’t address our daily stress levels.

And with the end of the pandemic nowhere in sight, Dr. Dennis Alters, a Psychiatrist, Professor and Co-founder of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California Riverside’s School of Medicine, believes many of us are in survival mode right now. Just simply hanging on to get through.

“Once we hit a plateau that’s when the grief will really set in," said Alters. "When we get our vaccine and we start to recuperate. On the one hand there’s going to be a sense of rejoicing. And in that safety which we all long for, our defenses may be let down and people will start to experience more grief as they contemplate what they went through and how they coped and what they lost and who they lost.”

Of particular concern are the communities hardest hit by the pandemic, like essential workers and medical workers who are risking their health for the rest of us. And communities of color who are disproportionately getting sick and dying from the virus and feeling the strain of our country’s reckoning with systemic racism.

Angelica Guajardo, a Palm Desert based licensed psychotherapist who has been working in the field for 15 years, says everybody is going to face lasting emotional effects from this pandemic. But she agrees there is a concern for communities of color who under-utilize therapy. As a Latino woman, she recognizes the taboo therapy holds.

“It’s changing but our communities in general are not pro-therapy," said Guajardo. "Or pro-seeking help outside of the family circle.”

In traditional therapy, a therapist asks probing questions to help a client sort through feelings. Guajardo takes an integrative approach using both conversation and expressive arts like drawing and poetry to help people process feelings. She says it’s important for everyone to use different tools to work through grief right now.

"What’s happening because of the pandemic is it’s forcing us to isolate," said Guajardo. "And so that’s where it’s becoming further complicated. Because we the professionals are telling people saying stay active, stay active, and people are like, but how though? I can’t even leave the house?”

Guajardo suggests healthy adjustments like getting rest, proper diet and exercise at home as a good place to start. People can try journaling or expressive arts—buy some markers online and start drawing.  Also, YouTube is full of relaxing yoga exercises and breathing techniques to help you stay in the moment throughout the day. And don’t forget simply calling a friend is important too.

But if any of these tools just don’t help with your feelings of grief and you still feel like something isn’t right please seek out professional help.

“The most important thing to remember is that whatever anyone is feeling is valid," said Dr. Kelley of San Bernardino County. "And then [that] there are resources out there and that we’re all in this together and we will get through it together.”

Community Resources

San Bernardino County Department of Behavioral Health:

  • For free 24/7 crisis services, call 909-386-8256
  • Feeling worried about the coronavirus? Confidential help is available and free of charge daily from 7am to 10 pm:

          Call: 909-421-9233; 909-458-1517; or 760-956-2345 

          Text: 909-420-0560; 909-535-1316; 760-734-8093

  • Visit their webpage, Facebook or Twitter for updates on mental health resources and virtual events related to mental health.

Riverside County- Riverside University Health System Department of Behavioral Health:

  • For 24/7 crisis and suicide intervention Call (951) 686-HELP (4357).
  • For more information visit their webpageFacebook and Twitter.

University of California Riverside:

Find a grief therapist near you: psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/grief

Find a grief support group near you: griefshare.org/

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 

 

Support for the "Wellness for Times of Uncertainty" series on KVCR is provided by the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools' Innovation and Engagement Branch. Information at sbcss.net