Grief is a universal experience. It is a natural response to a loss. However, it can also be a difficult experience particularly during adolescence when there is a great deal of other changes occurring.
At a glance
- During adolescence, grief has the potential to accelerate or inhibit development.
- Young people can often feel confused and overwhelmed by the range of feelings they are experiencing.
- Grief is expressed in many ways. There is no wrong or right way to grieve. There is no specific timeline.
- Many young people feel conflicted about seeking support from their parents as they're also striving for independence.
Adolescence is an important transitional phase. It is an exciting and complex stage of the life span. Behavioural, social, cognitive, emotional, physical and spiritual development and growth are in rapid process.
Understanding and grappling with issues related to identity, independence and peers takes on a natural urgency for young people during this time. Coming to an awareness and acceptance of one's changing body and mind and pushing the boundaries to experiment with dress, hairstyles, peer groups, drugs and alcohol are a part of working out belonging and values.
During adolescence, grief has the potential to accelerate or inhibit development. Young people can often feel overwhelmed and confused by the intensity and range of feelings they are experiencing. Their limited life experience may not prepare them to handle intense feelings in safe ways.
Many young people feel conflicted about seeking support from their parents as they are also striving for independence. They may feel alienated from peers and struggle to concentrate at school. These factors can create vulnerability, which may lead to isolation, confusion and increased risk-taking behaviour.
Common grief responses
Tears, intolerance of others, mood changes, disjointed conversations, resentment, restlessness, erratic decision making.
Isolation, withdrawal, abusing drugs/alcohol, risk-taking behaviour.
Confusion, sense of unreality, forgetfulness, racing mind, poor concentration.
Numbness, sadness, anger, anxiety, regret, guilt, blame, fear, helplessness, betrayal, mood changes.
Change in appetite, change in sleeping, tiredness, headaches, colds, nausea.
Why me?, loss of meaning, questioning faith, challenging beliefs, desolation, yearning, searching for understanding.
Ways of supporting a bereaved young person
- don't put a limit on the process of healing. Be available some time down the track
- sit quietly with the young person while he/she talks, cries or is silent
- make opportunities to look at photos of the person who has died and share memories of their life
- acknowledge and believe the young person's pain and distress whatever the loss – large or small
- be aware of your own grief and/or feeling of helplessness
- reassure the person that grief is a normal response to loss and there is no wrong or right way to grieve
- don't panic in the absence or presence of strong emotional responses.