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Supporting Student Grief at School by Nancy

Help Students Deal with Difficult Feelings

Students may have feelings of regret, particularly if they believe they had mistreated the individual in the past. Adolescents may be particularly vulnerable as a group with an increased risk of feeling depressed or anxious and engaging in self-blame or guilt related to the loss. If the death was a suicide (see Special Circumstances below), these feelings may be heightened.

Help Students with Coping Behaviours to Support and Maintain their Attendance and Classroom Learning

Following a loss, addressing the event with students directly may decrease the negative impact on school attendance and learning. This can be done individually and in group settings. Students may express many different emotions and feelings. The goal is to allow this expression in a safe and non-judgemental environment.

Help Younger Students

Younger students may have more difficulty understanding death and are more likely to have literal misinterpretations in response to explanations (e.g., if told the deceased is in everlasting sleep, they may become fearful at bedtime). All students (and staff) are likely to experience some guilt feelings after a death, even if there is no logical reason.

Support Rooms and Protocol

Establish procedures for leaving class and for returning to class before the end of the lesson e.g. will a pass be required? Should a student who is very distressed be escorted to the support room?

More extensive services will be needed in the aftermath of a school-wide crisis. Consider having support and counselling services available to students and school staff before, during and after school hours in the immediate aftermath.

Plan for ongoing and long-term services to be available to students, especially around anniversaries, dates and events which may trigger reactions for students, such as proms, athletic events (if they were sporty) or graduation.

Have substitute teachers available that can rotate among the classes to allow extra support in lessons.

School counsellors, school nurses, educational psychologists, CAMHS and social workers can help teachers identify risk factors and signs of distress that may indicate the need for mental health services above what is offered at school. Parents should be notified if additional services are recommended.

Especially after traumatic losses be proactive and set the tone for students to seek out counsellors if they have troubling thoughts. Encourage students to identity friends they may be concerned about. These include students who have suicidal thoughts or have made threatening statements.

The key thing is to encourage distressed students to talk

Special Circumstances: Suicide of a Student

Clarify with family about information they wish to disclose about the cause of death, but be aware if information has already been shared publicly by a reliable source, or on social media.

Identify students considered at greatest risk for mental health distress.

Educate students, staff and parents about warning signs and symptoms of suicide and distribute information broadly about hotlines and support services.

Encourage students to seek help; de-stigmatize and legitimize the importance of mental health services and communication with others who can help.

Whilst being sure to acknowledge the individual who dies, avoid romanticizing or glamourizing suicide.

Minimize media coverage of the suicide.

Be aware of any suicides in the larger community by maintaining good communication with other area schools, community mental providers/services and the police.

Resources

https://www.tcf.org.uk/content/resources/LP06-When-a-student-dies-C14-R1507.pdf

Sensitive and appropriate literature can be introduced into the curriculum

See Nancy’s guide “How Do We Cope When Someone Dies?”

If you have been affected by grief and wish to share your experiences, or would like to ask Nancy a question, email write@visableinc.co.uk with NANCY in the subject line. All emails will be printed confidentially.

Credits:

Created with images by ROverhate - "butterfly insect macro" • Ben White - "Tough times" • Ben White - "untitled image" • Ben White - "Contemplating woman" • Alessio Lin - "untitled image" • Laura Skinner - "untitled image" • Akshay Paatil - "Touch of the other world"

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