Bereavement just isn’t something you expect to have to deal with when you are between 18 and 25, or at least not for most people. When it happens, it’s incredibly isolating – especially if you’re fending for yourself and living away from home for the first time. The fact is, that the pandemic has robbed many young adults of their grandparents over the last year, and so a disproportionately high number of people in this age group will start or return to university grieving.

Bereaved students are among the most vulnerable people at university and, without support, at risk of developing ongoing mental health problems. In our society, we tend to hide our painful feelings and try to appear ‘fine’, when the reality is that we need to press the ‘stop’ button for a while and pay our grief some attention. For students, this can be quite a challenge - there are social pressures - the need to make friends and join in is important, especially in the first year- as well as pressures to learn and perform. Expectations are high all around.

Universities are well placed to provide the pastoral support if a student needs support, although they are all different and there are reports that many underfund their welfare and/or are oversubscribed. Many refer students to external services or leave untrained student welfare officers to provide the support. 

Going to University soon?

If you are a bereaved student or your son or daughter is about to go to university, perhaps suggest they make some enquiries about bereavement support before they go - better still set up some support so that it's in place when they arrive. Sometimes peer to peer support is all that's needed - knowing that you aren't alone and that others have had a similar experience can be hugely helpful for people in this age group. What's most important is that they know that support is critical at such an important time in their life and its OK to ask for it. Unsupported grief can cause mental illness such as depression and loss of concentration which can cause bereaved students to suffer academically as well as impact on their health, especially if taking to drink or drugs to dull the pain is seen as a way out.

Hopefully, universities - all their staff as well as their pastoral, welfare and chaplaincy teams - will be mindful of the probability that they will be dealing with more bereaved students than ever following the pandemic and be on the lookout for the signs. There are also other organisations that can provide support and we would encourage anyone going to university next week to check them out.

Let’s Talk About Loss is one such organisation. Set up by young people for young people. They run peer-led meet-up groups in a growing number of university cities across the UK for people aged 18 to 35 who have been bereaved at any stage. Check out the locations on this website or on the LTAL website.

It is a safe space to talk through taboos and address the reality of losing someone close to you when you are young. LTAL believes that by meeting others who have experienced loss, young people can share their stories and struggles without fear, judgement or awkward silences, as well as meet up socially with others who 'get it'. 

GriefChat is here for you on this website if you need to talk. You can webchat with a professional counsellor for FREE, get advice or simply 'talk'.  Available between 9am and 9pm Monday to Friday.

Don't suffer in silence or alone! Come back to AtaLoss.org to find support, information and helpful reading resources. Helplines are available HERE if you need help urgently.