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Grief, Loss, & Trauma During COVID-19

Written by Bruce Cruser

Bruce Cruser has been Executive Director of Mental Health Virginia since 2016, bringing a background in social work and community corrections, and many years of leadership experience in local and state government.

July 21, 2020

**Trigger Warning: death and grief over the loss of loved ones; suicide**

I would like to preface this post by mentioning that I cannot speak from personal experience or understanding of losing a loved one or friend to COVID-19 and that I am posting this as a form of spreading awareness during the pandemic. As someone who has not contracted the virus nor lost someone close to me from COVID-19, I would not want to trivialize the experiences of those who have. Furthermore, I do not fall into the category of people vulnerable to severe illness, but if you want to read more on this group, check out one of my most recent blog posts. I am writing this piece for MHAV as a means to spread awareness for the collective traumas and losses people in our country are currently experiencing.

Because the global pandemic is considered a large-scale event, many people around the world are experiencing grief right now. Grief is a natural response to trauma or death; during COVID-19, people are going through not only losses of life but also of employment, life experiences and milestones, of income, or any change to lifestyle. With social distancing measures in place, many families and communities are not able to mourn the loss of loved ones in traditional ways, either. Many funeral and memorial services have become remote or very small gatherings to avoid spread of the virus; this is another factor that can affect how people process the loss of loved ones.

Since this blog primarily focuses on adolescents and young adults, I want to highlight the specific responses to grief that younger people experience. While grief impacts people of all backgrounds, ages, and socioeconomic statuses, younger folks may process it differently. As stated by the CDC, “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.” This can have profound effects on the person’s mental health or recovery from preexisting mental health conditions or substance use disorders. For young adults and college-aged folks living away from their families, grieving alone could make the process even more difficult at times. These factors and different lived experiences could also put these younger individuals in recovery at higher risk of suicide.

Because this long-lasting pandemic has impacted millions of individuals thus far, I want to pose useful tips from the Uniformed Services University Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress for coping with grief during these times. Even if you have not lost a loved one to the virus or been diagnosed with any sort of mental health condition, it’s likely the pandemic has caused some sort of disruption in your life or someone’s life that you know. In “When a Loved One Dies from COVID-19” from the Center, the authors highlight some coping methods that might be useful for people experiencing loss during the pandemic and beyond:

“ 1. Reach out to others to both receive and offer support.

   2. Being open and honest will encourage others to do the same, creating important connections.

   3. Practicing good self-care (e.g., eating properly, exercising, maintaining good sleep hygiene) to support health, well-being, and resilience. 

   4. Bereaved persons are encouraged to seek help when required, including formal help from trusted health care providers or mental health professionals, such as the Disaster Distress Helpline (1-800-985-5990) or the Virginia COPES Hotline (877-349-6428).

   5.  It is important for people to grieve together, even when they are unable to be together physically. Family members can receive support from each other, as well as friends and mental health professionals (e.g., grief counselors or chaplains). Support can be provided virtually through phone calls, texts, emails, and video chat, and all these modalities should be encouraged.

   6. Families are encouraged to consider options for memorials and burials at a time when family members can be together. It may be necessary to modify traditional memorialization practices. Importantly, memorialization offers comforting ways to be together and mourn loved ones.”

In response to everything I’ve described in this blog, I have compiled a list of direct care services, support groups, and additional resources for those who are grieving the loss of a loved one. Please feel free to share these resources to spread awareness of these resources for people struggling during these trying times of the COVID-19 pandemic. I have also included tips and articles for people looking for resources on how to effectively support friends and family members who are grieving during times of social distancing. Remember, self-care is so important, and so is your mental health!

Direct Care, Hotlines, and Support Groups

Mental Health America of Virginia COVID-19 Warm Line: free, confidential, & available M-F 9:00am-9:00pm Sat-Sun 5:00pm-9:00pm

  • For Virginia constituents:
    • The Mental Health America of Virginia Warm Line is available through call or text at 877-349-6428 for COVID-19 virtual support 

Grief Anonymous:

Grief Support Groups in Virginia:

  • List from PsychologyToday of grief and loss support groups in Virginia, that can be accessed here

PRS CrisisLink: 24/7, confidential, & free

  • A Northern Virginia hotline bringing immediate help, hope and healing to empower individuals facing serious life challenges, suicidal thoughts, emotional or situational problems
  • Call 703-527-4077 or text 703-940-0888

Virginia Department of Health Hotline: free, confidential

  • Call 877-ASK-VDH3 (877-275-8343) to get COVID-19 questions answered by a professional at the Virginia Department of Health

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 24/7, confidential, and free

  • Call 1-800-273-8255 for distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals or online chat here 

SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline: 24/7, confidential, and free

  • Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to access the national hotline dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster.

Mental Health America:

  • Free online screening tools for mental health conditions here
  • General resource list for COVID-19 and mental health here
  • For Virginia constituents:
    • The Mental Health America of Virginia Warm Line is available at 1-866-400-MHAV (6428) for mental health resources and referrals in Virginia


  • Help get matched to an online mental health provider here
  • Totally free, accessible, and instant matching with a therapist

American Psychological Association Help Center:

  • List of national and statewide hotlines for support here
  • Search tool to find a psychologist near you for longer-term help here

Crisis Text Line: 24/7, confidential, and free

  • Free texting service that can be accessed by texting HOME to 741741 for free, 24/7 crisis counseling

The Jed Foundation: 24/7, confidential, and free

  • Text START to 741-741 or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for emotional health and suicide prevention support

Health Brigade

  • Virginia’s oldest free clinic located in Richmond with medical, mental health, community outreach, and care coordination services for low-income and uninsured persons
  • Call 804-358-6343 to speak to the medical clinic and check your eligibility to access services here
  • Check out Virginia’s list of free clinics here as well for uninsured folks who need care

National Runaway Safeline: 24/7, confidential, and free

  • Call 1-800-786-2929, text 66008, or access free online chat here to assist runaway, homeless, and at-risk youth with crisis intervention and safety planning services

Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund – Student Aid:

  • Provides funding to institutions to provide emergency financial aid grants to students whose lives have been disrupted, many of whom are facing financial challenges and struggling to make ends meet
  • Application processes and eligibility requirements can be found here

The Loveland Foundation:

  • Access for Black women and girls apply for free mental health services through The Loveland Foundation Therapy Fund
  • Learn more about the services and application process here

Useful Articles, Links, and Resources:

Useful Articles, Links, and Resources for Supporting Friends & Family:

Anna Marston, Intern

Mental Health America of Virginia

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