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Bereavement and COVID-19

As you will likely be supporting a child or young person within an education setting, it is perfectly normal to have lots of questions and concerns around someone experiencing bereavement, and importantly how to manage your own thoughts and feelings during such a difficult period.

Bereavement can occur from a number of life incidents. Young people have expressed feeling bereavement when they have lost someone they love or have general feelings around missing somebody who has died. Other young people can feel strong levels of bereavement after the death of a family pet or anything that they feel a strong sense of love or attachment towards and is no longer present, with them or alive.

People who experience bereavement have advised that they can sometimes feel detached from those they care about, whilst experiencing powerful periods of sadness. Bereavement can impact children and young people in different ways, and at different times. Feelings of guilt are often commonly associated with bereavement, particularly if the bereaved person feels they should have done more or spent more time with the person they have lost or had a difficult relationship with the person prior to their death.

There are also physical symptoms attached with bereavement that are common in children and young people and these are potentially present within your education setting. It can be common for those experiencing bereavement to have an impact on their appetite, either struggling to eat at all or eating more than usual, without thinking about it. Sleep disruption can also be an indicator, with some finding sleep impossible or feeling the opposite and needing more sleep than before. Feeling anxious is a common factor in bereavement sometimes resulting in periods of panic, tension, dizziness or confusion.

It is important to note that you may find different experiences of bereavement for children and young people depending on their age or stage of development. Young people aged 5-8 don’t have the cognitive functioning to tell us verbally how they feel and may want to explore these feelings or emotions through play. It is important to try and connect with the child or young person at their level to support those feelings of bereavement. Older children may want to talk about the person they have lost and it is important to try and listen to their story and how they feel whilst noting that there is no normal way to experience bereavement and that it can take a long time for the associated feelings to subside. It is important to note that the loss leading to the bereavement will always be with someone and the feelings experienced at that time may be different as they grow older and move throughout life stages.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, our bereavement has been altered. Our normal processes such as funerals and close proximity to those in their final days alive, particularly if they are in a hospital or cared-for environment, have been halted and impacted. It does remain to be seen how this will impact bereavement longer term in general, however this could prolong the periods of pain, hurt, isolation or deep loneliness – particularly during periods of uncertainty through any local or national lockdown periods, resulting in time away from our regular way of living. Those experiencing bereavement during this pandemic are managing emotions and feelings that may be new to them whilst trying to manage the external uncertainty that is being experienced worldwide. This may raise issues of guilt or regret for feeling the way they do, or even exacerbate the feelings of loneliness or shame that can be attached to bereavement. The Mental Health Foundation have detailed information on their website that is in direct relation to these experiences during the pandemic period, alongside a wider study that focuses on the evidence within education settings:

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/coronavirus/change-loss-and-bereavement

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/sites/default/files/MHF%20Scotland%20Impacts%20of%20Lockdown.pdf

Link to useful worksheets: https://www.therapistaid.com/therapy-worksheets/grief/none

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