Understanding Suicide and Grief

Young People and Grief

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 are a great deal of other changes occurring.

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.

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 are a great deal of other changes occurring.

Grief is a process that each person experiences in a unique way. The following factors influence how grief is experienced:

  • What was the relationship with the person who died?
  • What are the circumstances surrounding the death?
  • How has emotional distress been managed in the past?
  • What is the support network?

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

Behavioural

Tears, intolerance of others, mood changes, disjointed conversations, resentment, restlessness, erratic decision making.

Social

Isolation, withdrawal, abusing drugs/alcohol, risk-taking behaviour.

Cognitive

Confusion, sense of unreality, forgetfulness, racing mind, poor concentration.

Emotional

Numbness, sadness, anxiety, guilt, fear, helplessness, mood changes.

Physical

Change in appetite, change in sleeping, tiredness, headaches, colds, nausea.

Spiritual

Why me?, loss of meaning, questioning faith, challenging beliefs, desolation, 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 share memories or look at photos of the person who has died.
  • 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.

Living with the Experience of Grief

The following are some creative ways which may assist in living with the experience of grief:

  • write a letter to the person who has died or make a card and add a message
  • create images that express something of your experience - have a go at using clay or paints, do a drawing or make a collage
  • make a CD of songs that are meaningful
  • talk to people who have known the person who has died
  • make a memory book about the person who has died. Include photos, poems, sketches, qualities, sayings, stories
  • prepare for special days and holidays. Christmas, birthdays and anniversaries can be difficult times. Plan a visit to the cemetery, light a candle or maybe spend some time at the deceased person's favourite place. Keep a journal. Fill it with your thoughts and memories. Take time to reflect on your journey.