Grief, lockdown, and coronavirus: A looming mental health crisis

But one of the hardest wounds to heal will be the sheer volume of death and the way that the natural order of saying goodbye to loved ones has been upended by the special conditions imposed by an infectious disease pandemic. The death toll in the US has now passed 102,000 while in the UK it is more than 38,000.

For individuals, this will leave a private anguish that some — although not all — might find hard to come to terms with: for societies, it means a potential mental health crisis that could start to emerge as the lockdown is eased.

Grief is chaotic and uncertain, says Julia Samuel, a bereavement psychotherapist in London who warns about the mental health impact from mourning under the isolation of lockdown. “What helps is that ritual. Touch, hugging, people coming round.”

Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, the British shadow mental health minister who is also working in a south London hospital during the crisis, has witnessed the difficulties at first hand. “Frontline medics are having to tell countless people that their loved ones have died over the phone or behind full PPE [personal protective equipment], with only eyes visible,” she says. “This virus has stripped the humanity out of grieving.”