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Grief and Loss

Grief is a normal and human response to all kinds of loss, trauma and even change. It may not feel ‘normal’ but it is not an illness or a never-ending ‘condition’ – it is often just a process that takes time. How much time depends on the kind of loss, the individual, the context and the circumstances at that time. Some typical ‘losses’ students at university may experience include:

  • Leaving home and ‘adjusting’ to a different country/city/university/flat/hall
  • Relationships and friendships changing ‘at home’ as well as during the academic year at university
  • Learning how to handle a first (or important) significant intimate relationship – i.e. how to end a relationship (being the ‘dumper’) and how to respond to the hurt if the relationship has ended (being ‘dumped’)
  • Parents, family or friends separating and/or divorcing
  • Extended family and friends away from you being ill or dying
  • Hearing of peers, family or friends going through a ‘crisis’ such as illness, death, suicide
  • Injury/other factors affecting your own or friends’ functioning or ‘identity’ –e.g. having to stop competing at high level sports due to injury or study pressures
  • Figuring out who you are when you visit ‘home’ and who you have become as a ‘different’ person at Otago University – e.g. values changing or being challenged

All reactions to loss are different yet some typical ‘patterns’ emerge for most of us experiencing grief of any kind. These include:

  • Shock, numbness and denial initially (a normal human response to bad news)
  • Pining or yearning for that which is lost (sometimes experienced as physical aches or pains)
  • Irritability and/or anger at self, others, the situation
  • Bargaining (going through the ‘what ifs?’ even some that are irrational)
  • Depression and/or withdrawal and/or fatigue
  • Acceptance –which does not mean everything is ok – just that you can move forward with life somehow.

Sometimes anniversaries, news events and small individual triggers can seem like we slip backwards in the grief process but this too is expected and ‘normal’. Being aware of all of this, being patient and kind to yourself and others and ‘working through it’ all helps.

There are lots of things you can try to help you work through grief after someone has died. How you feel about what has happened will change over time; so some strategies may feel like they work better at different points in time than others. Some strategies you can try include

  • Grief time. Allow yourself 15 or 20 minutes each day to grieve. Make sure you are in a space where you can be alone. Switch off your phone. This time is a safety valve – it’s an opportunity to allow yourself to deal with any feelings you have stored up. How you use it is up to you. Think, cry, pray, meditate, write, or draw.
  • Keep a diary. Write down your feelings, your grief, and the memories of the person who has passed away. It’s a great way to keep track of how your grief changes over the weeks and months – and can be used as proof in difficult moments, that you are making progress.
  • Let yourself cry (if you can). Tears are often a sign of strength and show that you are prepared to work through your grief. So if you feel like crying, don’t hold yourself back. If you want to cry and can’t, though, don’t worry. A lot of people find it really hard to cry, and express their grief in other ways.
  • Talk to someone you trust. Grieving can feel really lonely, and it’s a long process, so find someone you can talk to – e.g. a friend or family member. A lot of people find it helpful to talk to people who have been through similar experiences.
  • Visit or contact the University Chaplains – this is free and you don’t have to follow a particular religious faith to talk confidentially to experienced people in this field or check out their resource: “Coping with Grief”
  • Check out the Healthy Campus webpage for supports and information to help you stay well, For grief look into the social and spiritual health pages
  • Skylight has a number of helpful articles for all different types of grief
  • Making an appointment with a Mental Health Support clinician on 0800 479 821

The most important thing to know about these strategies, is that you need to give yourself some time. It can take a really long time to work through your lowest moments when someone has died, and it’s normal to feel like your life has been turned upside down for a while.


Youthline 0800 376 633, FREE TXT 234
Suicide Crisis Line 0508 TAUTOKO, (0800 828 865)
Dunedin Hospital Tel 64 3 474 0999 and ask to speak to a nurse from Emergency Psychiatric Services if you are feeling unsafe