Dr. Renee Clauselle, a practicing child psychologist with a private practice in Franklin Square New York, and Director of School Mental Health Services at St. John's University, says that schools offer a place for support and counseling whenever a student experiences the sudden loss of a classmate, but if the student experiences depression, anxiety or mental health issues as a result of that traumatic loss, then parents are urged to seek a professional therapist for their children.
"When a school-age child dies, the entire school community grieves. Schools are much like families, in that, a sense of community and closeness develops amongst teachers, staff and administrators," Dr. Clauselle said. "Thus, the entire school community grieves together, even those in the community who may not have known the deceased personally. The fact that the deceased individual was a part of the school family is enough to evoke grief and should be handled with the same sensitivity as if an extended family member had died. When death has occurred due to trauma, the school as a whole must deal with what experts call traumatic grief."
Dr. Clauselle advises parents that it might take longer for their children to go through the grieving process than other children. It is important, she said, that children and teenagers have a qualified mental health professional to express their feelings and answer their questions. According to Dr. Clauselle, psychological intervention prevents long-term effects of traumatic grief. Most schools have referrals of professionals in the area. For a list of referrals, parents can visit the American Psychological Association's Web site, www.apa.org.
"Most often, schools will offer group counseling; however, this might not be enough for some students," Dr. Clauselle said. "School counseling is usually time-limited and supportive only. If parents find that their child is extremely distressed, they should seek out a mental health professional outside of the school setting. Since traumatic grief is associated with an elevated rate of mental health illness, including depression, anxiety, and behavior problems, parents should seek out a therapist that specializes in traumatic grief."