I AM grieving right now, but not for Prince Philip, a man I did not know. The enforced mourning imposed on our nation this week has given me pause, as I'm sure it has for many, to reflect on the hundreds of thousands of lives lost during this pandemic.

In particular I've been thinking of my beloved aunt, who passed away suddenly in July. The pain of her loss still rips through me, the memory of that life-altering phone call leaves me gasping for air in my darkest, most panicked hours. Truth be told, I haven't stopped thinking about her. What else can we do in the wake of loss during a pandemic but stagnate in a pool of grief?

News that the BBC had offered staff grief counselling following the Duke of Edinburgh’s death was ridiculed on social media, and I admit I was perplexed by the headline. How utterly ridiculous, I thought. Although tears glistened in some journalists’ eyes as they delivered reports of his passing, I suspect their emotions were felt only by a small minority of their colleagues despite what the ceaseless coverage would have you believe.

Abolishing the not proven verdict would be the first step to better justice

After a bit of digging it emerged the story wasn’t quite as it seemed; staff had simply been signposted towards employee support services. That made sense. I’m sure there are several people who would benefit from a kindly ear right now, not because they’re despondent about a 99-year-old member of the royal family shuffling off this mortal coil but because the inability to escape the news of it has dredged up the agony of their own losses.

The UK’s Covid death toll has just surpassed 150,000 and the number of deaths throughout the country in total was more than 600,000 in 2020. A study by a team of sociologists in America last year found that on average, nine loved ones are left behind for every person who dies from Covid-19. That number just reflects the people impacted most deeply, such as spouses, siblings, children and parents. Once friends, colleagues and more distant relatives are taken into account, researcher Ashton Verdery said that number could be multiplied by 10 or more.

By this measure, millions of us have grieved the death of someone we care about over the past year. Arguably, this is true most years. But what a strange and difficult time to be processing such a loss.

There is no easy time to lose a person you love, obviously, but right now it hits differently. Our natural impulse to comfort and console has been overridden by fear of a virus that has had us watching funerals on Zoom or attending them socially distanced and in small numbers.

Before my aunt died I thought the former would be worse, but it isn’t, not by a long shot. There is no bleaker feeling than sitting on a pew wearing a tear-sodden face mask behind a row of shuddering shoulders, knowing it’s dangerous to hug them. Sorrows couldn’t be drowned afterwards, not together anyway. Emotional conversations were tinged with a fraught anxiety about getting too close. At a time when all we wanted to do was express ourselves freely and focus on the person we had loved so fiercely, the spectre of Covid hung in the space between us.

There is an element of grief difficult to grapple with during normal times; that the world keeps turning while yours has come to an abrupt halt. You see people laugh and don’t understand how that’s possible. You look at newspapers and wonder why none of them are writing about your headline news, your person, the aching void they’ve left behind. You know the Auden poem: “The stars are not wanted now: put out every one; Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun”. But the world pausing in line with yours, the clocks being stopped, means little when you can’t commune with your loved ones. Nor can you hop back on life’s carousel when the pain isn’t so searing. There are few distractions.

We know the past year has taken its toll on our mental health; I am not alone in how I feel. Grief has played a huge role in our collective consciousness as we have mourned the loss not only of others’ lives but the way ours once was. The long-term impacts of grief are many and varied; it is associated with depression and anxiety and can dramatically alter the course of a young person’s life if they lose a parent and do not receive the support they need.

Poor mental health can affect anyone from any background and grief can incapacitate the most high-functioning people you know, but the cushion of a decent job, of money, allows the most fortunate among us to afford private therapy or at least meet our basic needs on our heaviest days. Many do not have this privilege. It was revealed last month almost 25,000 calls to the – yes, overstretched and underfunded – NHS 24 mental health hub have gone unanswered throughout the pandemic. Figures published last year showed some young people in Scotland placed on waiting lists at Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services for more than 52 weeks.

The UK and Scottish Governments have committed vaguely to mental health recovery plans, but I worry whatever they come up with won’t be enough to dig us out of this hole. How can we have faith the care and humanity required to ease our national mental health crisis – a crisis difficult to accurately measure in numbers and statistics – will be provided when the Government’s response to the Covid pandemic was so slapdash and inhumane as to allow 150,000 people to die?

Vaccine wars take centre stage in the politics shows

Perhaps the hardest thing of all, the one making me cry as I write, is that my auntie lived in the north-east and I couldn’t have seen her this year anyway, just as I hadn’t had the chance to see her before the pandemic took hold. Part of me can be lulled into believing she’s still here and once restrictions ease and the carousel resumes, I’ll be able to visit and see her beaming face, hear her infectious laugh. But I can’t. She is gone. She is gone. She is gone.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.