The Effect on College Students When They Lose a Parent

Carolina Jacobs

Apr 6, 2023

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Losing someone you love is devastating. The most mundane tasks can seem monumental and nearly impossible to complete. Being in college can magnify your grief since many responsibilities and expectations exist. Students need our support and guidance to remain on your rosters and ensure their future success. 

How Students Cope With Grief 

Everyone reacts and deals with grief in unique ways. Students can withdraw from social interactions and hyper-focus on their studies, which may not seem bad for colleges. Or, they can do the opposite and lose focus, lacking the ability to concentrate, mimicking signs of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Unchecked and unprocessed emotions can manifest and have an adverse effect on students’ mental and physical health. 

Unprocessed grief can be dangerous and cause students to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms like alcohol or substances to cope. Ensuring that students have support is vital to their overall health, academic performance and, ultimately, the school’s performance. Many college students deal with grief, with 35-48% having lost someone close to them within two years. The death of a parent’s effect on college students varies, from losing interest in studies to experiencing insomnia, depression and anxiety. 

Universities must offer students the support they need to ensure they care for themselves and remain on the path to success. As teachers and administrators, your job is to guide students and advocate for them so they can navigate their paths and move toward their futures, which can be especially challenging when they’re hurting. 

Ways To Support Grieving Students

Providing support for grieving students can help them navigate life through their grief and help student retention. Here are some ways to mitigate the effects of the death of a parent’s effect on college students.

Offer Support Services

Losing a loved one can impact your entire being, especially your mental health. Many college students suffer from poor mental health, but only 30% of them seek support through therapy. Therapists provide navigational techniques and resources to help students recover from loss and grief. Providing outlets for students to share their emotions privately can significantly impact students’ success.

Support services should be encouraged after a student loses someone to nurture their grieving process. Universities should provide access to counselors and support groups for their students. They should also have lenient professors and advisors who understand how grief can affect academics. Encourage spending time with friends and getting a roommate if they don’t already have one so they don’t feel isolated or alone. 

Provide Bereavement Options 

Each institution’s bereavement period can differ, but universities typically allow five days of bereavement for students. Five days might be enough for a student to make arrangements or attend a funeral, but it definitely isn’t enough for them to grieve. Some students benefit from returning to school and getting on with their lives in the face of adversity–life must go on. 

However, some students simply aren’t ready to dive back into their social or academic life. Grieving looks different for everyone, so students should know what options to use as they cope. A leave of absence allows students to leave school with the intention of re-enrolling. A leave of absence can last for a few weeks or a few years depending on the student. Universities have varying policies regarding a leave of absence, but the priority should be advocating for the student’s mental health. 

Some students may just need time to get affairs in order and process their emotions for a few weeks to fully focus on their studies when they return. Teachers and administrators should acknowledge their struggles and accommodate their students so they can return to their studies ready to focus on their futures. 

Death of a Parent Effect on College Students

The death of a parent has an overwhelming effect on college students. Student advocates should do everything possible to ensure their students have access to the support they need. College students need guidance, advice, and direction regarding their futures. Provide adequate support and resources for them and hope they find their way back to the classroom. 

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