Grief is a universal human response based on loss, trauma and unmet expectations, and the complicated emotions attached to it can recur months and even years after the initial loss of a loved one.
During National Grief Awareness Day, observed annually on Aug. 30, mental health professionals focus on encouraging open communication about loss and bereavement to achieve a better understanding of what causes grief and how to address it.
This is especially important because grief can be hard to identify, said Dr. Tracey Brown, executive director of Mental Health Services.
“A lot of times, people are experiencing grief, and they don’t recognize they’re grieving,” Brown said. “They know something is wrong internally, but they don’t understand what grief looks like, so a part of our job is to help individuals define their response to grief and loss and develop coping strategies for overcoming it.”
Common signs of grief include anger, depression, anxiety, trouble sleeping, sadness, fatigue, guilt, pain, crying spells or loneliness.
“Know that it’s OK to not be OK,” Brown said. “If you find yourself in that space, know that help is available.”
Help for staff experiencing grief
For Dallas ISD staff who are experiencing some of these feelings and are having trouble dealing with them, help is a phone call away through the Employee Assistance Program by LifeWorks. This confidential, secure platform has free specialist counselors on call 24/7, as well as personalized wellbeing tips, podcasts, videos, exercises, assessments and more.
Staff can simply contact LifeWorks by calling (972) 925-4000, or visiting www.dallasisd.org/benefits and clicking on Benefits Resources to access online EAP information. LifeWorks also has an app that offers specialized self-help resources developed by world-leading experts. Once downloaded, the app can be accessed through the EAD login credentials.
For instances when dealing with grief or other emotional situations involve more than just one person, the EAP also has support counselors available. These counselors can be deployed to campuses or departments to help staff who may be facing a conflict or have emotional concerns. District managers can start this process by contacting the Benefits Department in Human Capital Management.
The EAP is one of the resources offered in the district. Others include Mental Health Services, Counseling Services or Social and Emotional Learning, Brown said.
“No matter the concern, we are here to support you,” she added.
Coping with grief
For people who are actively experiencing grief, Brown recommended several coping mechanisms.
- Practice self-care regularly and prioritize your physical health
- Drink plenty of water
- Maintain a healthy diet
- Get plenty of sleep
You can also put yourself in a different space by taking advantage of your available PTO, practicing positive affirmations or engaging in new leisure activities like a pottery or yoga class, she said.
“Do something different,” Brown said. “Some of us will get into a routine, and even though we might be experiencing grief, trauma and stress, we do not realize that it’s ongoing because we have not given ourselves that moment to step away and engage in something we enjoy.”
Another tool is leaning into your social support system. While back-to-school season can bring busier schedules and a faster pace, be sure to schedule time with friends and remember the positive, joyful connections you have.
Grief is a journey, but you do not have to endure it alone.
Helping those who are grieving
For anyone who is caring for a struggling friend, family member or student, Brown said self-care is key to showing up each day. You do not need to know all the answers or have the perfect response. Simply check in with your grieving loved one, give them permission to feel whatever they feel and help them find the resources they may need to process through their pain.
“Take care of yourself,” Brown said. “We all experience grief, so when you are having those feelings, reach out to someone. Please, do not suffer in silence. Someone is available to help!”