Grief that young people experience may often be caused by sudden and tragic deaths. Friends might die suddenly from car accidents, illness, drug overdoses, violence or suicide but parents and other family may also be lost through illness or sudden events. Their deaths may be completely “out of the blue” and come as a major shock or may come at the end of a long illness. Either way, this can feel very unfair and trigger new feelings or a young person may be unsure how to deal with them.
Just as men and women may grieve differently, so may young people. Some common reactions in young people who are grieving may include:
- shock and disbelief
- feeling unmotivated and depressed
- feeling guilty – perhaps for not being able to save the person from drugs or suicide
- no knowing how to deal with powerful emotions
- needing to blame someone
- uncertainty about how to remember the person who has died
- feeling irritable and be short tempered
Young people may have limited experience in dealing with these new and powerful feelings. They may be trying to understand mortality for the first time the concept of existence, as well as working out their own individual identity.
Grief may make it difficult to concentrate and learn at school, and difficult to make decisions.
Young people need to be supported by people who are close to them: parents, relatives, friends, parents of friends, teachers. They need to know that it is OK to talk to a professional who can help them work out what they are feeling and how grief might affect them.
Parents should not be afraid to display their own grief to their children. It helps young people learn how to deal with grief if they can see their parents grieving.
Young people need to be able to express their grief in their own way and to have ways to express their feelings – for example, journaling or contributing to social media tributes such as Facebook.
Allowing opportunities to remember the person is very important.
Young people also benefit from time spent with other young people and knowing that it is OK to have ‘time out’ from grief.