Children are facing lasting grief and mental health impacts from Covid-19 losses

Business Insider US
Second-graders talk in small groups about their how they're feeling at Paw Paw Elementary School on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, in Paw Paw, Michigan. The curriculum their teacher uses is part of the district's efforts to increase social-emotional support for students, more of whom have struggled during the pandemic.
AP Photo/Martha Irvine
  • Approximately 140,000 US children have lost a parent or primary caregiver during the pandemic.
  • Children who have lost a caregiver are more likely to experience mental health problems.
  • Experts are beginning to question the long-term impacts of children losing parents.
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Nearly two years into the Covid-19 pandemic, experts are beginning to grapple with the lasting impact the virus will have on the mental health of the current generation of children.  

"I thought, 'It's my fault that my dad died.' 'Cause I was, like, if you would have talked to him or be there for him, he would probably be alive," Natasha Beltran, a 12-year-old, told CBS News

Beltran's father, Julian Peña, died of Covid-19 at just 50 years old in a Bronx, New York, hospital in 2020. Since then, her family is one of thousands that are navigating complex feelings of grief and trauma caused by the loss of a primary caregiver during the pandemic. 

While much attention has been paid to the impact of social distancing and mask wearing in schools during the pandemic, fewer studies have tracked how many children have experienced coronavirus-related deaths and how they are managing their grief. 

One recent study estimated that 140,000 children in the United States are estimated to have lost a parent or primary caregiver to Covid-19 between April 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021, with disproportionate losses suffered among Native American, Black, and Hispanic children. A global study estimates that number is more than 1.5 million worldwide.

"Adverse childhood experiences are associated with increased risks of every major cause of death in adulthood," Susan Hillis, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and lead author of the US study, told NPR.

The loss of a parent is associated with mental health problems, as well as shorter schooling, lower self-esteem, sexual risk behaviours, and risks of suicide, violence, sexual abuse, and exploitation, Hillis' study continued. 

For Beltran and her family, support has come in the form of a nonprofit organisation called The Children's Village, which provides behavioural health services for kids in New York. Similar nonprofits have cropped up in other states in response to such losses, with practitioners focusing on providing a safe space for children to let their guard down and not worry about being resilient in the face of loss. 

"Resilience doesn't take away the trauma," Daphne Torres-Douglas, The Children's Village's vice president of behavioural health services, told CBS News. "We still have to address the fact that they're hurting."

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