Dealing with grief, life-threatening illnesses, and everything and anything in-between… (now more important than ever)

This post was written for the University community by one of our students

Dear staff members and students,

These past months have been a challenge for us all – everything grounding to a halt during ‘lockdown’, disruptions to university teach, working and studying from home, and new difficulties such as quarantine. A lot of staff members and students will have had to deal with isolation from loved ones, illness in the family, and bereavement.

Facing grief and illness, or the anxiety of the possibility, has perhaps never been more widespread. Covid-19 has brought home hard truths and moved to centre stage the possibility of losing someone or getting ill. Dealing with illness and grief can be life-changing and the current restrictions add additional difficulties.

For our staff members and students to feel more supported through these challenging times and beyond, we need to encourage discussions about grief and illness and normalise the topic within our university. That does not mean only focusing on doom and gloom, but rather speaking openly about mechanisms to deal with these challenges and where to go to access support, raising awareness among the student and staff community.

Most students will deal with some sort of loss or potential loss during their university degree, whether that is a close family member, or a distant friend or relative. Staff members will most likely come across students who are struggling with a family member or relative who is ill, or grieving the loss of someone they love. Staff members and colleagues will also experience similar challenging life situations. What is the best thing to do? Below are some tips for how you can help others in this situation, or help yourself:

  • Actively listen: Listen attentively when the situation arises, concentrate, understand and respond to what is being said.
  • Check-in regularly: Drop the student/ staff member an email when you can to check in to see how they are doing.
  • Offer advice or reassurance: It might be helpful to offer them gentle advice, which could be anything from “look after yourself”, “surround yourself with friends”, “make sure you are looking after your wellbeing”, “studies can wait”, “take some time out”.
  • Offer help (but first ask them how they want to be supported): You could help them with extending deadlines for pieces of work, contacting staff members, referring them to or informing them about student or staff wellbeing and counselling, referring them to other help resources on the SU website, or sign-posting to external support services.
  • Engage in self-disclosure: this is if relevant, helpful or possible from your perspective.
  • Watch for warning signs of depression: Grief and/or dealing with illness can lead to mental struggles. Keep an eye out for concerning behaviour, like inability to function in everyday life or enjoy life, obsession with death, bitterness/anger/guilt, withdrawing behaviour, or talking openly about dying and suicide. If you are concerned speak to them and help them help by referring them to student wellbeing who can offer support and access to services including counselling.

Depending on your capacity to deal with this, please seek help and advice from others where needed.

Resources:

If you feel that your mental health is at breaking point, you can speak to the Bristol Mental Health Crisis Team.

The Samaritans: When life is difficult, Samaritans are here – day or night, 365 days a year. You can call them for free on 116 123, email them at jo@samaritans.org, or visit www.samaritans.org to find your nearest branch.

University services:

  • Student Wellbeing and Student Counselling website
  • The SU Wellbeing Network – societies like Nightline and Peace of Mind (amongst others) are listed on here, with links that will take you to their webpages.
  • Internal support groups – check the SU Wellbeing Network site for the internal support groups that are running this year. Support groups appear throughout the year, so keep checking if there is not one that suits you. Also, feel free to reach out to the SU Wellbeing Network if a support group does not exist, but you think it would be useful to create one specific to your needs.
  • Wellbeing Advisors in your department
  • Staff Mental Health and Wellbeing webpages
  • Information on Staff Counselling
  • Staff Development Wellbeing Courses and Resources

Out of University:

Mental Health and Wellbeing

Mind: Coronavirus and your wellbeing.
Off The Record: being resilient through the Coronavirus disruption.
Free Headspace Mindfulness: weathering the storm.
BBC article: how to protect your mental health.
WHO: mental health and psychosocial considerations during Covid-19.
NHS: guidance on relieving stress.

Bereavement Services and Resources  

Cruse Bereavement Care: The Cruse Bereavement Care Freephone National Helpline is staffed by trained bereavement volunteers, who offer emotional support to anyone affected by bereavement. The number is 0808 808 1677 ​or email helpline@cruse.org.uk.
Bristol Bereavement Network: directory of local services for Bristol.
Good Grief Trust: an online portal of UK bereavement services, searchable by type and location.
British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP): for information on finding a qualified counsellor.
The Samaritans.
At a Loss: to help signpost you to the right support.
Shapes of Grief, a podcast/blog by Liz Gleeson, Bereavement Therapist
Griefcast, a podcast that examines the human experience of grief and death, hosted by comedian Cariad Lloyd.

Good Grief Festival runs 30 October – 1 November 2020, with free events related to grief and loss of different kinds. You can also register to access all the content afterwards for 3 years for £20.

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