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Credit: Chase Sutton

In response to student demand, Counseling and Psychological Services has created a support group for students struggling with the loss of a loved one while at Penn. 

The new support group is one of the 15 support groups and workshops offered by CAPS this semester. The six-week program, which will meet every Thursday from March 28 through May 2, is open to all graduate, professional, and undergraduate students who are grieving a loss. Students can sign up by emailing one of the two group facilitators listed under the program webpage

“For a little bit, there was a bit of a gap in being able to provide a support group for students grieving with loss,” CAPS Deputy Executive Director Meeta Kumar said. “Sometimes the sense of isolation can be an additional powerful stressor, so being in a supportive space where you can be around peers who are also dealing with a loss and balancing school can provide an additional avenue of support."

Kumar said CAPS decided to host the support group after several clinicians who counseled students going through bereavement raised the idea.

"Our sense is that a number of staff have had students express interest in such a group during outreach programs, so we are glad to be able to meet this demand," Kumar said.

One in three college students experience a death of a family member or close friend who died in the last 12 months, according to Actively Moving Forward — a national organization which serves as a support network for students and young adults.

Credit: Cindy Chen

Kumar added that CAPS hopes to offer the program again next fall.

In January 2017, Penn’s chapter of AMF helped the University craft a bereavement policy guide, which is now outlined in the online Pennbook. Before then, Penn had no official policy focused on how students deal with academic commitments while experiencing a loss. Students had previously expressed that the lack of a streamlined communication process made the grieving process unnecessarily difficult.

Penn’s bereavement policies state that students should work with their academic advisors to figure out the best course of action for their individual needs in the event that they lose a loved one.

Former co-chair of the College Dean's Advisory Board and College senior Emily Lurie oversaw various mental health-related initiatives, such as the "Deconstructing the Penn Face" panel, during her leadership. 

"I actually didn't know about the support groups but I think they're a great idea," Lurie said. "[The board] is always thinking about the issue of accessibility — it's not apparent that Penn has all these resources for students." 

Penn's chapter of AMF, founded in 2008, runs a peer-led support group for grieving students. AMF member and College senior Hannah Rash said the CAPS program offers another kind of support for Penn students.   

"Every person’s grief journey is unique and different things will and do help different people," Rash wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian. "Student lead support groups can be great, one on one therapy can be great, groups lead by a mental health professional can be great. This is another avenue of support that is offered to students and that is good."

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