Based on our research with university administrators and counseling centers and work with NSAMF, we have identified several action steps that university administrators and counseling center directors can take to help grieving college students on three levels: student, campus, and national. Each is discussed below.
- First, many students troubled by grief present to the counseling center with problems that are secondary to the loss, such as reliance on drugs or insomnia. Thus, mental health professionals should conduct a thorough loss assessment as a part of all routine intake interviews. Both death and nondeath losses are important to understanding the experience of college students who present for counseling (Servaty-Seib & Taub, 2010). Campus professionals must be familiar with current bereavement-related theories, attuned to the behaviors that could indicate an internal struggle with bereavement, and prepared to intervene appropriately (Neimeyer, Laurie, Mehta, Hardison, & Currier, 2008).
- Second, it is important that campus professionals communicate directly with grieving college students that they are willing to speak with them during times of grief.
- A third critical component is that campus professionals educate bereaved students about the unique challenges that they may face and share information about the various, underutilized grief resources available (e.g., Campus Ministry, Residential Life). Feel free to use the following video as a part of a workshop or during a meeting with campus professionals: https://vimeo.com/29399652
- Fourth, campus professionals should encourage grieving college students, particularly males, to participate in service activities, such as a local cancer walk in memory or honor of a loved one. And, finally, campus professionals can share information about NSAMF and its nationwide community of supporters with students and colleagues and encourage their students to start a Campus Chapter if one is not already established.
- First, campus leaders should determine if there is a contact or identifiable location on campus where bereaved students can go to seek support, such as the counseling center, student health service, a Students of AMF chapter, or campus ministry (Balk, 2001).
- Second, campus leaders should facilitate, as many university counseling center staff already have, the development of NSAMF Campus Chapters at their universities. If administrators are interested in helping to start a Chapter, they should contact NSAMF through www.studentsofamf.org for more information. If a Campus Chapter already exists, university administrators and counseling directors can serve as Faculty Advisors or informal advisors to grieving students. At the very least, it is important that administrators share information with community members, including college students and other faculty/staff, about NSAMF.
- Third, holding an informational grief workshop on campus is another excellent mechanism for supporting students. NSAMF has many resource materials for planning one of these events, including: https://vimeo.com/29399652
- Fourth, campus administrators should determine if supportive policies, such as bereavement leave policies, are in place to assist bereaved students. If policies are in place, administrators should review current policies to determine if they are aligned with recommendations presented elsewhere (see Servaty-Seib & Taub, 2010). If no policies exist, administrators should advocate for such policies.
- Finally, professionals can promote the idea of an annual memorial service or memorial garden for the loved ones of students who have died (see Hamilton, 2008, and Knudson, 2011, for further information for supporting).
NATIONAL-LEVEL STEPS: Active support of these student and campus-level efforts by campus counselors is critical to sustaining them on the national level.
- First, the annual NSAMF National Conference on College Student Grief is an excellent way to learn more about the experiences, needs, solutions, and opportunities for supporting grieving college students.
- Second, national efforts can involve sharing information about NSAMF with colleagues from other universities, who may ultimately become interested in starting Campus Chapters.
- Third, NSAMF feeds off the experiences, ideas, and advice that university administrators and counseling directors can offer. There are many roles for new volunteers, including serving on an advisory board or conducting quantitative research into the effectiveness of National Students of AMF programs in meeting the needs of bereaved college students. Click here fore more info about how you can get involved!
- Fourth, national mental health membership associations should include college student grief theories as a standard part of program training (Servaty-Seib & Taub 2010).
- Finally, campus professionals should engage in continuing education regarding grief and mourning through organizations such as the Association for Death Education and Counseling (www.adec.org).