When Milestones Go Missing
Helping Young People Cope with Feelings of Loss in a COVID-19 World 

SPRINGFIELD, MASS. – Rites of passage are part of the human experience. Graduations, new jobs, weddings, anniversaries, and other significant milestones are acknowledged and celebrated by families, friends, peers and larger communities. High school graduation—the culmination of the long goodbye that is senior year—is a milestone marked this time of year. After proms, senior day games, spring musicals and final exams, students traditionally come together as a group, one last time. They listen to speeches and share memories, then walk up on a stage, shake hands and receive a diploma.

“Such events exist with reason and purpose,” said Sara Kendall, MSW, LICSW, Vice President of Clinical Operations for MHA, Inc. “But this year, traditional milestone celebrations will go missing under the cloud of COVID-19. What was envisioned as a pinnacle of their young lives abruptly switched, with no final send-off to be relished and shared. Young people are especially resilient, and are able to adapt to new, creative ways of recognizing these significant life events.”

Kendall emphasizes that high school students aren’t the only ones missing out. “This year there are other milestones we won’t be celebrating in the traditional sense,” she said. “Little ones are transitioning from Kindergarten to first grade. Teens are finishing middle school and preparing for high school. What will their summer vacation look like? Young adults are finishing college or graduate school. Some made plans for a first job or enlisted for public service. Families have postponed vacations and weddings, and even had to attend funerals virtually. What adds to the difficulty is the unknown nature of how long life will be altered this way and how life in the post COVID-19 world, will play out.”

Young people in particular are seeing their rites of passage cancelled. Being isolated from their friends, they may feel emotionally drained. Parent, teachers, coaches or other influential adults may themselves be struggling with how to respond to the heartbreak so many young people in their lives may be feeling. These adults may be wondering how young people are coping in the face of so many unknowns.

When milestones go missing, Kendall explains, people feel a sense that they will never get these opportunities back or have the chance to experience them in anything like the way they envisioned.

The expectation of what the next chapter of life is supposed to be has been altered. Young people were already working toward the start of a new unknown like college or work. Now they need to prepare for that in a world where things look vastly different and change by the day.

“You may be wondering if you’re asking the right questions,” Kendall said. “Making the time to ask about how a young person feels matters more than the specific questions you may ask. Often the best approach to encourage someone to talk about how they feel is to be simple and direct. Say something like this: ‘With everything that’s been going on in the world, I’ve been thinking about you and I’m wondering, how are you?’  And then just listen. You may have to wait for the words to start, so be patient.”

If a young person you care about would like to talk with a mental health professional about how they’re feeling, MHA’s BestLife Emotional Health and Wellness Center offers TeleWell service delivery. This enables them to connect with a licensed BestLife clinician via smart phone, tablet or computer. It’s easy to set up the app and most insurance is accepted. To learn more, call 844-MHA-WELL.

About MHA:

What We Do
MHA (Mental Health Association) helps people live their best life. We provide access to therapies for emotional health and wellness; services for substance use recovery, developmental disabilities and acquired brain injury; services for housing and residential programming, and more. With respect, integrity and compassion, MHA provides each individual served through person-driven programming to foster independence, community engagement, wellness and recovery.

Why We Matter
The youth, adults, seniors and families we serve want the same things in life as anyone: to have friends, work, go to school, have meaningful relationships, express themselves (and be heard), and be accepted in their community for who they are. With our help and resources from a caring community, people can live their potential, in their community, every day.

How We Think
Starting in the 1960s, MHA’s groundbreaking efforts and advocacy helped to transition people away from institutional living to a life in our community. This became a model for the deinstitutionalization movement. Today, our leadership continues to advance awareness of mental health conditions and needs at local, regional and national levels. We drive compassionate care for those challenged by mental health, developmental disabilities, substance use, homelessness, acquired brain injury and more.