Grief support essential especially as individuals continue to experience grief at unprecedented rate

Grief can be experienced in connection with many life events and transitions, including death of a loved one or pet, loss of a friendship or job, reduced income or job security, etc. With all of the changes and loss as a result of the pandemic, individuals are experiencing grief at an unprecedented rate. According to Hope Edelman, grief and loss coach and author, pandemic grief poses a potential public health risk of its own.   

Heather Servaty-Seib, professor of counseling psychology at Purdue, firmly believes that prevention can be critical with regard to grief, which is one of the reasons she is currently facilitating a weekly online grief support / discussion group.  

“Mental health challenges are not inevitable,” Servaty-Seib explained. “Seeking connection and conversation in the grieving process can make a significant difference for people. Grief is normative by definition, but deaths can sometimes be a catalyst for mental health conditions. However, there is a lot of prevention that can take place to help.” She goes on to explain that “The overwhelming amount of loss connected with the deaths of more than 500,000 individuals as a result of the pandemic mandates that we look for resources to help those who are grieving. These individuals need and deserve to have a way to express their grief to help them heal as well as to help prevent additional, negative consequences to their health.”

A Curtin University study, published in Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, is the first study to focus on psychological factors that explain why people bereaved by COVID-19 might experience additional challenges in areas of life, such as work, leisure and others. Lead author of the study is Associate Professor Lauren Breen from the Curtin School of Population Health. According to the study, “grief from deaths during the pandemic was felt more acutely than that following both deaths before the pandemic and deaths from other natural causes.”

“This exacerbation of grief is due to the necessary restrictions that affect people’s access to dying loved ones, limit their participation in important rituals like funerals and reduce the physical social support they would otherwise receive from friends and family,” Breen explained. 

Servaty-Seib’s weekly online grief support/discussion group – which is supported by the behavioral health pillar of the Healthy Boiler Program – for the Purdue community (faculty and staff) who have lost a loved one meets at 3 p.m. on Fridays through April 30. No registration is required. Those interested can join the group virtually on Zoom through the recurring link here.

“Grief support should be viewed as essential to our society and to broader public health,” Servaty-Seib said. “My hope is that the weekly online grief support group provides those who are grieving a death an avenue to be heard and seen—and to feel less alone. Individuals who join the group are not required to participate in any particular way, but their pain will be acknowledged.”

Servaty-Seib also serves as interim associate vice provost of Teaching & Learning (Office of the Provost), the associate dean for student life in the Honors College and leads the University’s grief and loss research team.