Finals are a difficult time for any student, but that stress is amplified for those who are struggling with the loss of a loved one.
The U chapter of Actively Moving Forward, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping young adults cope with the illness or death of friends and family, want students to know they aren’t alone.
Stephen Hoffman, the group’s secretary and a graduate student in social work, encourages anyone to reach out.
“Grief is not a mental illness. You may be feeling depression, you may be struggling to sleep and eat, your behavior may have changed … it’s normal,” Hoffman said. “It’s the price you pay for loving others and being human. There should be no stigma attached.”
Grief may not be easy to see, but it is prevalent on many college campuses. Approximately a fourth of college students have lost a family member or close friend within the last year, potentially damaging their academic success, work performance, mental health and social life. Becky Ablad, a graduate student in social work and group president, said the organization is open to anyone struggling.
“Our mission is to help the people that are grieving and feeling like they don’t have anywhere to go,” Ablad said. “When I experienced a death, the only groups that were available you had to pay for, and it just didn’t feel very good to not have a space to go and talk.”
Members promoted the club on April 20, National Young Adult Grief Awareness Day, handing out suckers to students at the Union with cards that said “Grief sucks,” and provided additional information about the initiative. During Fall and Spring Semesters, the group holds weekly meetings every Thursday in the Union.
Annalise John, co-president of the group, said while many participants are certified in social work, the meetings are not therapy or counseling, but rather a chance to talk, vent or just sympathize with their peers.
“Everyone here has experienced a loss in their life. That’s kind of why we wanted to do this,” John said.
Mark De St Aubin, a professor in social work, encouraged students to establish the program last summer after seeing several grieving students come to him for support. De St Aubin and the group are working to create a bereavement leave policy for students who need time to cope after a death. The policy would exempt students from financial penalties and take away the burden of requesting time off from each of their professors individually.
Richard Vunder, a sophomore in communications, attended a holiday grief meeting last Christmas and heard about the policy. Vunder’s father passed away at the start of Fall Semester, but he tried to continue as normal, not wanting to withdraw from class and lose access to campus resources. Halfway through the semester, Vunder couldn’t go on and had to file a withdrawal and attempt to get his money back.
“This is something no one wants to look at or talk about because it makes everyone uncomfortable,” Vunder said. “The policy is something that’s really needed.”
All students are welcome to get involved with the U’s chapter of Actively Moving Forward. More information is available on the group’s page at facebook.com/UofUAMF or by emailing the group directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.