Young people who lose someone because of a suicide death face an array of significant challenges, even during the proverbial “best of times.” Life during the coronavirus pandemic generally cannot be considered the “best of times” for many reasons. The pandemic has had and is likely to continue to have a negative impact on day to day living for a yet to be determined amount of time.
When it comes to youthful survivors of suicide, the coronavirus pandemic presents five particular complications that warrant discussion:
- Increased fear of surviving parent’s death
- Grief pushed aside by virus issues or concerns
- Loss of death-related rituals
Increased Fear of Surviving Parent’s Death
A significant complication associated with survivors of suicide loss and the pandemic involves a young person who has lost a parent to death by suicide. The pandemic has left us all on edge about the health and wellbeing of those around us. The pandemic does have the potential, in some cases, for taking the life of a person who contracts the novel coronavirus.
During the pandemic, mental health professionals are finding that a young person who loses a parent by suicide then has an increased fear that the surviving parent may end up dying as a result of COVID-19. Exposure to news about the pandemic is virtually ubiquitous. Even a young person is hard-pressed finding a way to avoid the never-ending drumbeat about COVID-19 and the death tally associated with the virus.
Some level of concern that a parent or other loved one might die as a result of a COVID infection is reasonable. Unfortunately, when a young person loses a parent as the result of a death by suicide, that concern can magnify into fear and that fear can become overwhelming.
Isolation. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are either encouraged or mandated to spend a considerable amount of time (and space) isolated from many others. Because of the manner in which the novel coronavirus advances and is, at times, better controlled, there is a considerable degree of uncertainty associated with when, where, how, and why we must isolate (at least to some degree, at least in some manner) from one point in time to the next.
The COVID-19 public health imperative to isolate (in some manner) has a definable impact on the lives of young people who’ve experienced the loss of a loved one as the result of a death by suicide. An illustrative example is a situation in which a young person has lost a fellow student to a death by suicide.
In such a situation, a grieving young person oftentimes is able to garner beneficial solace and support from being around his or her peers. Unfortunately, depending on the state of the coronavirus pandemic in a particular state or community at the time a student dies by suicide, those youthful survivors of that suicide death can be left apart from their important peer group of friends who typically would be helpful in supporting one another through the grief process.
Research demonstrates that young people generally find themselves suffering from higher degrees of anxiety because of the COVID pandemic. As a consequence, if a young person loses a loved one as the result of a death by suicide, that child, adolescent, or young adult experiences that loss at a point in life at which he or she already is experiencing what fairly can be called “amped up anxiety.”
The coronavirus pandemic creates an environment that not only is likely to increase a young person’s level of anxiety in the aftermath of a death of a loved one by suicide, it also interferes with that young individual’s grief and grieving process. Healthy grieving necessitates a lowering of anxiety levels. Anxiety levels that exist because of the loss of a loved one by suicide coupled with that connected with the pandemic make the grieving process more of a challenge.
Grief Pushed Aside by Virus Issues or Concerns
The grief process requires a person who has suffered a loss, including the death of a loved one, the time and opportunity to focus on what has occurred. Unfortunately, a pandemic by its very existence interferes with a person’s ability to address other aspects of his or her life in a consistent manner. The grief process following the death by suicide of a loved one is not immune to interference by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A young person – indeed, a person of any age – can find their important grief work pushed aside time and again as a result of issues or concerns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Grief being pushed aside is exemplified by some of the other topics included in this discussion. For example, the pandemic can result in isolation. For many people (no matter the age), too much isolation can negatively impact a healthy grieving process.
Loss of Death-Related Rituals
A final primary way in which the COVID-19 pandemic impacts the lives of youthful survivors of suicide loss is found in a loss of death-related rituals. As a consequence of restrictions placed on people gathering or congregating, death-related rituals like funerals, wakes, viewings, and memorial services have been impacted significantly.
The rituals associated with death serve a number of important purposes. These include:
- Assisting survivors or those left behind with their own grief processes
- Commemorating the life of the person who has passed
- Religious or spiritual objectives
Death-related rituals are important for people of all ages, including young people who’ve lost a person in their own lives as the result of death by suicide. The inability to have traditional death-rituals has been demonstrated to negatively impact the ability of young people to go through their grief processes in a more positive, productive manner.