Understanding Students’ Experiences of Bereavement: An IPA Study
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Background: Student bereavement is associated with a greater risk of depression, insomnia and worsened academic performance and social functioning (Balk,2010). Pressures to make new friends and search for a career path, the expectation to ‘have fun’, and living away from one’s family are factors which complicate the grieving process (Balk&Vesta,1998; Janowiak et al.,1995). Objectives: The present study aims to gain a deeper understanding of students’ experiences of bereavement, the challenges they face, and their coping strategies. Methods: Six individuals, aged 20-25, were interviewed using a semi-structured interview schedule. The Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis aimed to understand students’ lived experience of bereavement in a university setting and care was taken to meaningfully interpret their accounts. Results: Four master themes were yielded by the analysis. ‘Alienating Grief’ captured the sense of loneliness and isolation that participants felt as a result of their uncommon experience within the university setting, and their contradictory desires to ‘fit in’ by wearing a mask so as not to alienate themselves further by discussing death with their friends. ‘‘I just have to carry on’’ was a theme identifying conflicting demands: to be a good student, social and hard-working, and how this was complicated by being a grieving child/sibling. ‘Complex emotions’ reflected participants’ struggle between anger and guilt, relief and disappointment. ‘Conflicting pressures’ discussed the roles of stress and worsened wellbeing and their impact on coping mechanisms. Conclusion: The themes identified by the present study supported the existing evidence for the struggles students undergo when facing bereavement in a university setting and shed light onto future research possibilities.