‘Weeks… months later’: Grief can last among students; how to help

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — This school year has seen a number of tragedies where students have died.

The deaths happened outside of schools and have ranged from students being involved in deadly car accidents, being victims of gun violence to losing their lives to suicide.

Each time that has happened, grief counselors have been there for students.

Queen City News had the chance to speak with two of those counselors Wednesday, who said one death among the student population affects the entire district.

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“I think any year where you lose students is a tough year,” said elementary and middle school psychologist Jessie Lankford.  “One is one too many, and we never want to experience any student losses across the board from our schools.”

“With grief, you’ll see it weeks later, months later,” said high school counselor Sequoia Goodman.  “That’s when we get into the individualized ‘what do we need to do’.”

Lankford and Goodman are just a small portion of the contingent of grief counselors within Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Both said that, for the most part, student mental health is good, but acknowledged with each incident, some students need help.

“It may show up as their academics start to slip or in behaviors they haven’t showed previously,” said Lankford.

For parents of these students, they may not remember mental health resources and counseling being made available to them when they were students.

Experts said the reason for that not only depends on when you when to school, but also where a person went to school, with resources sometimes not available in rural areas.

“Even when I was in school, there was a certain stigma around certain diagnoses or things like [mental health] being talked about,” said Lankford.

The mental health of students has become a larger concentration for schools over the years, with counselors helping students through issues they may be dealing with.

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“The school counselor’s role—it’s gone from guidance counselors to school counselors,” said Goodman.  “Our biggest role is making sure students are in school and healthy.”

Counselors said students may be too proud or too embarrassed to admit they need help, but it will not stop them from doing their job.

“Those students who are directly impacted–if we don’t see them, we’re going to reach out to them,” said Goodman.

Goodman and Lankford said parents should watch for verbal and non-verbal indications of grief, and urge parents to ask how their child is doing after a tragic incident affects a class or school.

Counselors also noted community resources, such as Kindermourn, which help those who are mourning the loss of a child.

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