Support After Suicide

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.

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


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


Why me?, loss of meaning, questioning faith, challenging beliefs, desolation, searching for understanding.

Ways of supporting a  young person

  • sit quietly with the young person while they talk, cry or be 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.
  • 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.
  • be aware of your own grief and/or feeling of helplessness.
  • don’t put a limit on the process of healing. Be available over a long period of time.

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 playlist 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.

For specific information about how to speak with young people about suicide go to Tell me what happened.