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The Student News Site of Loyola University Maryland

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Counseling Center Campaign Encourages Students to Open Up about Loss and Grieving



Loyola’s Counseling Center is currently working on a public health initiative about facing loss and grief in hopes to educate students and lend support. From Jan. 26 to Feb. 26, the Counseling Center is raising awareness about its various resources for handling loss, educating about the different types of loss students can face, and educating the community on the impact loss has on all of us.

The Dealing with Loss campaign has been a staple public health movement at Loyola for about 10 years, but Dr. Tom Fillion washelping students deal with grief long before the official campaign began. Fillion currently runs the Counseling Center’s grief and loss group, which has met once a week for the past 19 years.

Grief and loss can strike at any point in someone’s life, but the issue is particularly hard to address and cope with for a college student, as they are usually away from family and friends who know the loved one who has passed. When the grief and loss group first began nearly 20 years ago, about half of the students had experienced loss of a loved one within the prior two years, often times not to the knowledge of roommates or friends at school.

This month-long campaign will mainly focus on loss in terms of a death, but there are several different types of loss that one can experience in their lifetime and during their college experience.  “Losses” can include, but are not limited to, loss of capacities — mental or physical—, loss of a relationship through a break-up, pending loss due to an illness, loss of a job, loss of financial security, and even graduation from school.

Loss and grief are difficult issues to address as they take on different forms in each individual. Some scholars have hypothesized that there are several “stages” that occur when someone is grieving. For example, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ model puts the stages in order from denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Fillion explained that stages of grief have never been that concrete in his experience, as students cope differently, “One minute you feel angry and guilty the next, the stages never seem that distinct.”

Dealing with loss can also be a distinctly different process between the sexes, partially due to cultural expectations that men are supposed to be strong and self-contained. Research conducted by Purdue University professor Heather Servaty-Seib found that loss directly affects academic performance for college students. GPAs dropped for both men and women during the semester of a loss, with men being slightly more affected.

Fillion explained another study where it was found that men tend to hold off on grieving, only to have it hit them harder later on and affect their academic performance more seriously, while women tend to have a drop in their GPA that quickly rebounds. However, in recent years, the grief and loss group has welcomed significantly more male members, potentially pointing to a shift where both sexes are getting more comfortable opening up during the bereavement process.

For students who are dealing with a loss in their life, there are several coping mechanisms that can help them through the process. Fillion encouraged attending group sessions because you are surrounded by peers who are facing the same thing within the same challenging college environment.“For the majority of people, what helps is going to involve reaching out and being willing to talk and having people around who are willing to listen.”

He also suggested other mechanisms such as looking within one’s own family, seeking individual counseling, journaling, attending church, reading books or just staying socially active with friends. Fillion expressed that while these are all worthy suggestions, what works best for those dealing with grief tends to be a very individual process.

Even when you are not the person directly affected by a loss, it is important to know how to help others deal with this difficult time. The typical signs of someone dealing with grief tend to be the signs the Counseling Center also sees in those suffering depression or risk of suicide.

Often times, but not exclusively, someone dealing with the loss of a loved one who is unable to talk about the issue and very closed off turns to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as uncharacteristic risk-taking or substance abuse, changing sleeping or eating patterns, and a general withdrawn attitude where they seem less enthusiastic about life.

Fillion shared that the most helpful thing a student can do to support someone who is grieving is to simply to be there for them, “Amazingly often people don’t say anything, but just say something even if it’s as simple as ‘I don’t even know what to say right now-but how are you doing?’” Fillion also suggested bringing it up more than once so the person grieving doesn’t feel forgotten.

Running the grief and loss group for close to 20 years gives Fillion a plethora of experience, but he shared that dealing with grief is trying even for a counselor. “It’s very difficult because it brings up one’s own losses and you’re seeing someone else in a great deal of pain. But in the end, it is very satisfying work because you know someone benefits from the help.”

While everyone looks to help a grieving friend with good intentions, this is a sensitive topic that needs to be approached appropriately. The main thing you should not do when trying to help a friend who is dealing with grief is to talk too much and not listen. It is also ill-advised to try to compare your loss to the loss of the person in question, because if it is not truly comparable the person may feel frustrated and angry.

If you are experiencing grief, or know someone who is, there are many resources available for support. Obviously, the Counseling Center is always available for group or individual therapy, and is free and confidential. Also, students can seek guidance through an outlet like Campus Ministry if they feel more comfortable taking this route.

When this month-long program is over, Fillion and his associates at the Counseling Center hope that students take away a simple message: everyone is going to lose someone, and it helps to pull together and talk. Fillion hopes that students will simply reach out and acknowledge when someone is grieving, “Even just a hug is worth so much.”

Photo courtesy of Mark Plummer/Flickr.

If you are looking for further resources on this subject, below are several publications recommended by the Counseling Center.

Caplan, S., & Lang, G. (1995).  Grief’s Courageous Journey: A Workbook.  New Harbinger Publications

Kushner, Harold S. (1981/2004). When Bad Things Happen to Good People.  Anchor Books.

Noel, B., Blair P. D. (2000).  I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping and Healing After the Sudden Death of a Loved One.  Champion Press Ltd.

Rando, T.A.  (1991).  How To Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies.  Bantam Books

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Counseling Center Campaign Encourages Students to Open Up about Loss and Grieving