Your Guide to Navigating One of Life’s Toughest Assignments
Dealing with grief is often one of the challenges many college students will likely face while matriculating through school. Coping with loss can be especially challenging for students away from their family, often for the first time ever. “Across studies we see that 35 to 45 percent of college students are within two years of the death of a family member or a friend,” says Heather L. Servaty-Seib, an Indiana-based psychologist and expert in the areas of adolescent bereavement, social support and grief. “One recent study indicated that just over 30 percent of college students may experience a death each year.”
To put it plainly, grief should be taken seriously no matter the cause. This guide will provide some insight into how college students may best manage their grief and highlight some of the many resources available to help them cope.
Life Events That Can Trigger Grief
A wide array of emotional experiences may invoke feelings of grief and extreme sadness among young adults, especially when there is a sudden or unexpected loss. For many college students, it may be the first time they’re dealing with an experience of this magnitude. Here are some of the most common causes of grief:
Managing Grief on Campus
Crying, fatigue, insomnia, headaches, panic attacks, loss of appetite, social isolation, feelings of hopelessness and despair, and a loss of interest in schoolwork or other activities previously enjoyed are just some of the many ways that grief may show up in a student’s life. It can adversely affect a student’s academic performance and, when not adequately addressed, may also escalate into more serious issues, such as depression, physical ailments, suicidal thoughts and substance abuse problems.
The promising news about grieving as a student is there are plenty of resources available on college and university campuses to help one work through his or her feelings. “If your child experiences a mental health issue or any other serious challenges related to the grieving process, don’t be afraid to visit them on campus to check on them in person or to reach out to professionals on campus for referrals or support,’” Coleman says. “If [someone on campus has] reached out to you, consider that your child is in trouble and needs your immediate support.”
Specific resources will vary by campus, but it’s most important to know that help is available for both parents and students. “Units that come to mind include dean of students, residential life, counseling center and campus ministry,” explains Servaty-Seib. “There are also community-based support centers for grieving families like the National Alliance for Grieving Children; these centers are starting to offer young adult support groups. Groups [like these] are a huge resource for grieving students, but not all campuses offer them. There is also a grassroots organization called Actively Moving Forward with chapters on campuses across the country. “It makes such a difference when grieving students can connect with each other and find even one person who ‘gets’ a piece of what they are experiencing,” adds Servaty-Seib.
Coleman also notes that due to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, students don’t have to share academic information with their parents, so you may not be aware that grieving is affecting your student academically. That is why keeping the lines of communication open is essential, experts say. “Ask them about how they’re doing in their classes and how they’re doing overall,” says Coleman. “This can be a great foundation to build a relationship and for them to feel like you’re building an adult relationship.” While communication is important, Servaty-Seib asserts that parents should also respect boundaries with their ever-evolving young adult. “They want to ‘be there’ for their grieving child, but they also don’t want to demand that their child share with them,” she says. “Young people will have their own time table and way of sharing and parents can simply state that they will talk whenever their child may feel the need.”
- HealGrief A virtual platform that provides support, resources and opportunities for those struggling with grief to connect with others working through the same challenges, including “Actively Moving Forward,” which is a grief support program for college students grieving the terminal illness or death of a loved one.
- The Grief Recovery Institute A nonprofit organization that provides support groups, mental health provider referrals and training for those struggling with grief issues.
- What’s Your Grief A Baltimore-based website founded by experienced mental health professionals that provides grief-related education, training and information on how to manage life after loss.
- Losing Your Parents Home to blog posts and the “Losing Your Parents” podcast for those grieving the death of their mother, father or both parents with the overall objective of “turning [their] pain into something positive.”
- Grief Healing An online support resource featuring a blog and discussion groups for those grappling with grief.
- Griefnet.org An online community for those dealing with grief, death and major loss that includes more than 50 email grief support groups and two websites.
- My Grief Angels A nonprofit online grief support and education organization that provides a wide array of resources, including a grief app, affirmations, research and a grief support directory created for and by people who are grieving.
- Grief.com An online resource that provides a nationwide list of grief counselors, support groups and general information about the grieving process.
- Open To Hope An online forum that provides support for people who have experienced loss to “help them cope with their pain, heal their grief and invest in their future.”
- Silent Tears A Facebook group where those who are grieving may post photos, questions and personal stories while connecting with others in the midst of their respective grieving journeys.
- GriefShare An online referral site for support groups that meet weekly nationwide that with the help of peer support, video seminars, journaling and self-paced workbook study, assist grieving people to move toward rebuilding their lives after suffering a devastating loss.
- LGBTQ Grief Loss Support A Facebook group that aims to provide “a safe, caring place” for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning people to grieve and share feelings about the passing of a loved one.