Grieving During COVID-19: It’s Different for Every Person and Situation

Over the next several weeks, Each Mind Matters will be running a three-part series looking at various types of grief related to the pandemic. Grieving looks different for each person. Today’s blog covers the grief and mental health challenges associated with economic loss.

The content in this article was developed prior to the national protests and organizing following the homicide of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. Each Mind Matters recognizes the profound impact of systemic racism in this country, including the mental health disparities and trauma experienced by Black and African American communities. Many marginalized communities and individuals often face complicated grief which stems from acts of violence, bigotry and hate.

Economic Losses – When the Bottom Drops Out

Written by: Lisa Smusz, Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor

The economic impacts of COVID-19 have been significant, with many Americans facing job or income loss. By the end of April, 43 percent of U.S. adults reported that they, or someone in their household, had lost a job or taken a pay cut due to the coronavirus pandemic. Low-income communities are being particularly affected: among people with lower incomes, that number increases to 52 percent, with Latinx communities being among the hardest hit by cutbacks.

As few as one in four adults have enough money in savings to cover three months of expenses without their usual income; which has contributed to the sudden increase in people experiencing insecurity over whether they can pay their rent, keep their house, or even feed their families. The effects of this go beyond the practical uncertainties about things like whether one can pay their bills and can have a profound impact on our mental health and well-being.

If you have suffered a financial loss and you find yourself feeling confusion, guilt, shame, or disbelief — or you just can’t stop thinking about what has happened — you might be experiencing something you didn’t expect: grief.

What you are going through is about more than money. Our jobs can give us a sense of purpose, identity and structure. Losing income might mean the loss of plans you had worked hard for — buying a house, retiring, or sending the first person in your family to college. Changes in your income can also mean changes to the life you have built for yourself, like having to leave your neighborhood or home.

Grief is a natural response to loss that generally progresses through several stages that you move back and forth through as you heal. When the grieving process surrounding economic loss becomes extended and complicated people can experience longer-term mental health problems like increased depression, anxiety, distress, as well as higher rates of substance use disorder and even suicide.

So, how do you move through the grief?

  • Recognize Your Grief — First, you need to recognize it’s there. Name feelings specifically when they arise — are you feeling angry, scared, or embarrassed? Allow yourself to acknowledge and feel the feeling instead of pushing it away or numbing out.
  • Find Ways to Cope With Grief — Finding ways to cope with uncomfortable feelings when they come up is the next step. There are things you can do on your own in this time of physical separation that will build your ability to cope, like going for a walk, writing down your thoughts, meditating or praying. However, connection with other people is still the most powerful tool we have in passing through the difficult emotions that come with grieving.

Connecting with others is why we have rituals around other types of loss, like funerals when we lose a loved one. But a financial loss doesn’t come with rituals in our culture, and most of us are left to deal with this loss alone without the help of a community and structure to acknowledge the pain and offer support.

  • Create a Community of Support — Creating a supportive environment for ourselves, even in times of physical distancing, can help the grieving process. Community support can come in many forms, whether it’s having open conversations about what we’re going through with the people you live with, calling and talking with a trusted friend, reaching out to peer supporters, or getting mental health support from a professional.

If you’re having difficulty finding enough emotional support or would like to talk to someone outside of your immediate circle, consider calling the California Peer-Run Warm Line (855-845-7415) for non-emergency emotional support 24/7.

The state of California has a list of other COVID-19 mental health resources and free phone and text lines available for teens, seniors, parents, and more.

If you’re in crisis, or are worried about someone you care about, you can call the 24-Hour Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255 or text 838255

  • Find Opportunities to Support Others — Similarly, giving help to others and engaging in mutual support — being vulnerable by asking for help when you need it (whether that’s emotional help, or financial or physical help) and finding ways to give support to someone else when you can — is one of the most healing things we can do.

For years, mutual aid programs have been championed by people from diverse communities to care for one another in times of crisis like these. Mutual aid calls for “solidarity not charity” — people helping other people, not for pay or praise, but caring for one another emotionally, physically and financially. You can find mutual aid programs near you by visiting this site.

Your grief and the problems you are facing are real. Acknowledging what you are feeling openly, asking for support when you need it, and giving support to others shines light into the darkness and helps us realize we’re not alone. No one knows what’s ahead, but one thing is certain — the only way through this is together.

To find additional mental health resources, click here. For information about how to Know the Signs to prevent suicide, click here.

For other financial assistance resources, including resources for people who are immigrants or do not have documentation, see the list below:

General Resources –

Lisa Smusz is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPC 298) with more than 20 years of senior level experience in developing, executing, and evaluating public health initiatives on local, statewide, national, and international projects and is widely regarded as a subject matter expert in mental health stigma reduction.

For related content: Grieving During COVID-19: It’s Different for Every Person and Situation (Part Two)