How to help students deal with grief

Doris Foxworth Odito is a professional counsellor and church minister.

I’ve never thought that I would be caught up in a wave of grief, death and despair as we experienced in 2020 during the outbreak of Covid-19. It was almost like the whole world was in grief, depression and despair mode. Covid-19 not only caused a lot of grief and loss, but also the onslaught of a mirage of mental health disorders that was like a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.

The amount of grief, death and loss that was unleashed in 2020-21 is staggering. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported a total of 6,932,591 Corona virus deaths. There were also 766,770,796 Corona virus cases reported. In Kenya we had 5,689 deaths and 344,094 confirmed cases, as 256,551 people recovered. Africa reported at least 12,423,000 infections and 256,000 deaths.

Many families and students experienced untold suffering and loss. There were separations and death, not to mention domestic conflicts, abuse and violence. We’re talking about husbands, wives and children who were at home as a family, but sometimes with a lot of disharmony among them. Many were clueless about how to interact as a family; thus, several family members went into depression, including students at home from school. For sure ballistics changes and upsurges in life as we know is gone forever. At this time everyone’s resilience, fortitude and mental state were tested.

In addition to my own struggles with grief and loss during Covid-19 as a psychologist, I received emergency calls from parents about their child/student who had severe depression, suicide tendencies and /or suicide, runaways and excessive alcohol and drug addictions. Depression in a student is a serious mental illness that is much more than a “feeling down” syndrome.

As students returned to school after Covid-19 was defeated, many teachers and principals noted that lots of their students were traumatized, grieving and some were not in a good mental space. As a result, teachers opted to give their students more time in class to process what they had experienced and to get counselling in school.

Covid -19 started in Kenya March 12, 2020; over 17 million students were at home for over 6 months. The longer students were out of school, the more the risk of less fortunate students never returning to school. There were many traumatized students in their homes. In addition, cases of child labour, child marriages, rapes and teen pregnancies increased. At least school has a huge role in giving thousands of students a safety hub and a healthy mental space.

As Covid-19 was defeated, we all have learned how to live and adjust to our new circumstances and lifestyles. This also includes many students struggling with grief, deep seated fear and anxiety, poor concentration and difficulty sleeping, among other challenges.


All schools should be equipped to increase the students’ understanding of grief, loss, depression and other mental health challenges. This is especially more important when the student experiences the death of a parent, sibling, close friend or a classmate. There are several tips and guidelines to help a student or students go through grief, and restore their mental health at . There are age appropriate themes as well. Parents should also take measures to teach their children more about death, dying and grief.

It is never too late to talk with students about death, loss, grief, mental health and grief recovery. There are many websites that will be very helpful for teachers, school counselors, psychologists, parents and principals to use to design their own mental health programmes. Don’t wait another minute!

 By Doris Foxworth Odito

 Doris can be reached at 0722-617404


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