OPINION

Coming of age in COVID-19: a role for grief literacy

Coming of age in COVID-19: a role for grief literacy

NO-ONE has been spared from the emotional and physical impacts of the current pandemic, including young people.

Adolescence and young adulthood are important transitions. There are many rites of passage marking these life stages.

Young people start and end romantic and sexual relationships, travel overseas for work and pleasure, socialise in large groups such as at concerts and sporting events, attend graduation ceremonies, and look forward to school formals and balls. The pandemic has changed all of these.

Someone important might have died, whether from COVID-19 or not. Young people might have experienced loss of or changes in employment.

The financial situation they anticipated might be different for years to come.

The thoughts and feelings young people might be having about these changes is a kind of grief.

Grief is what we experience when a connection to someone or something is severed.

However, most people think about grief as something that we experience from the death of a close person.

The pandemic has helped us to recognise that any kind of loss or transition or change can cause grief. It's important to focus on self-care and to be open to seeking and offering support. Technology is helpful and young people are likely to be more adaptable than other age groups in harnessing technology, like social media, to stay connected or find alternative ways to experience some of these rites of passage.

Young people can also find comfort knowing they are not alone and many others like them share similar losses.

Grief doesn't come in stages and we don't "get over" of it, especially when the losses are ongoing. Instead, young people will learn to adapt to and accommodate these changes into their lives.

We don't necessarily have the language with which to talk about these losses, or rituals we can use to mark them, making them much harder to recognise in ourselves and others.

The lack of appropriate language and rituals complicates how young people manage these changes and losses.

For these reasons, the time is right to focus on building grief literacy across the lifespan.

Grief literacy includes knowledge of grief and loss, skills to enable supportive action, and values of compassion and care.

A society that is grief literate can benefit all people experiencing all kinds of loss.

Dr Lauren Breen, Curtin School of Population Health

This story Coming of age in COVID-19: a role for grief literacy first appeared on The Canberra Times.