Dealing with grief during the COVID-19 pandemic requires special support. During these difficult times, the work carried out by the Spanish Ministry of Health aims to provide that support.
Written by Javier Barbero, Angélica Bonilla, Pilar Campos, Jara Cubillo, Ana Gil, Tomás Hernández, Ana Koerting, Elena Ruiz, María Terol, Javier Segura.
The COVID-19 pandemic has substantially impacted health and social wellbeing in Spain. By causing significant morbidity and mortality, the pandemic has put health systems to the test. Moreover, COVID-19 prevention, control and treatment measures have changed the processes through health and disease.
These circumstances posed new challenges to our emotional wellbeing especially during the first wave. Among these challenges, people were faced with the death of a family member or friend, the last days of their lives, saying farewell, and expressing and working through their grief in traditional ways. It is important that society, health professionals and, of course, public administrations respond to the changed needs of people and their families.
During the first wave of the pandemic, it became clear that there was a need for materials to support people’s emotional wellbeing. The Ministry developed general informational material about the COVID-19 virus and the measures to contain the virus, such as the staying-at-home rules. Specific publications for children and adolescents were also developed. In these materials, grief in times of the pandemic was specifically addressed.
When loved ones pass away due to COVID-19, various factors may complicate the grief process. Besides the traumatic nature of everything that accompanies death, people may not be able to be with their loved ones to say goodbye and may not be able to come together with other family members and loved ones to support one another and commemorate the person who has passed away.
The Ministry noticed that these circumstances required a different way of grieving and that providing good emotional support in those first moments of grief could be key to preventing more complicated grief later on.
To respond to the need for support around grief, the Ministry created a working group of people with different backgrounds. The group included psychologists, family medicine and community health specialists and medical specialists in preventive medicine and public health, as well as specialists in bioethics and grief management who treated people who had just lost loved ones to COVID-19.
Initially, the group created an infographic named Facing grief in the time of coronavirus. The infographic included words from those who had experienced loss. The words were linked to the four tasks to deal with grief:
- Recognising the traumatic nature of the event
- Accepting the difficulty of accompanying a sick person during their last days.
- Acknowledging the realities of isolation and loneliness during a period when social support is more important than ever.
- Validating the right to remember the loved one that passed away.
The infographic further explained the four tasks, and offered advice and resources to deal with grief.
Subsequently, the Ministry published guidance for professionals to facilitate the use of the infographic.
The loss of a loved one due to COVID-19 impacts all family members, including children. That is why the Ministry developed a similar infographic that explains how adults can support children as well.
Finally, the Ministry developed an infographic for those who were trying to support a family member or friend who is grieving the loss of a loved-one due to the coronavirus, called Support during grief.
Active dissemination of materials
The Directorate General of Public Health (previously the Directorate General of Public Health, Quality and Innovation) recognised the need to actively disseminate these materials. A number of public administrations and organisations whose work touches upon the subject of grief were asked to use and disseminate the infographics, including, among others:
- Official College of Psychologists (COP), Collegiate Medical Organization (OMC) and General Council of Official Colleges of Nursing Graduates
- Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces (FEMP)
- Funeral homes and funeral directors in Madrid and Barcelona
- Associations and networks of compassionate communities
- Patient associations
- Scientific societies
When dealing with grief during the COVID-19 pandemic, people have needed and will continue to need special support. The work carried out by the Ministry of Health aims to facilitate this support in these difficult times.