What is Teenage Grief and Loss?
Teenage grief and loss refer to the emotional and psychological distress that can occur when a young person experiences the loss of someone significant in their life. This can include the death of a loved one or the end of a relationship. The grieving process for teens can be complicated and often includes a unique set of challenges, such as navigating their own emotional responses, dealing with societal expectations, and adjusting to life after loss. Understanding teenage grief and how it manifests is crucial in order to support and help teens heal.
Signs Your Teen May Need a Grief and Loss Treatment Program:
As a parent, it can be difficult to know how to support your teen during a time of loss. But by recognizing the signs of teenage grief and loss, you can be there for your child in the most helpful and effective way.
In this section, we'll explore the common signs to look out for so that you can provide the love and support your teen needs during this difficult time.
Here are some signs of teenage grief and loss:
- Changes in mood or behavior over the littlest of things: Teenagers may become easily irritable or angry, or withdraw from friends and family.
- Difficulty expressing emotions: Teens may have trouble expressing their feelings, and may seem distant or uninterested in others.
- Inability to say anything: Teens may struggle to find words to express their feelings.
- Difficulty regulating emotions: Teens may struggle with intense feelings of sadness, explosive anger, or crippling anxiety.
- Physical symptoms: Teenagers may experience physical symptoms associated with intense feelings of sadness or distress such as a heaviness in the chest, tightness in the throat, headaches, stomach aches, and fatigue.
- Trouble sleeping: Teens may have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.
- Changes in appetite: Teens may have a decrease or increase in appetite.
- Decline in academic or personal performance: Teens may struggle with focus, motivation, and a decline in grades or personal interests.
- Risky behaviors or self-harm: Some teens may turn to risky behaviors or self-harm as a way to cope with their grief and loss.
- Feelings of guilt over something said or done: Teens may feel responsible for the loss, even if it is not their fault.
- Changes in identity: Teens may feel as though their sense of self has changed in the wake of the loss. Or they may feel a loss of identity and try on multiple personas as they try to find themselves.
- Changes in family or household role: Teens may take on new roles in your family or household as a way of avoiding their own emotions. They may become caretakers for others, shifting their focus away from their own pain and grief.
- Feelings that the loss isn't real or didn't happen: Teens may struggle with denial, feeling as though the loss didn't really happen.
Parents should consider seeking treatment for their teenager if their struggles with grief and loss are having a significant impact on their daily life, or are irreparably damaging their future. If the behaviors and symptoms persistently interfere with daily life, it is important for parents to seek help from a mental health professional who can provide an accurate diagnosis and start the healing process.
Types of Grief & Loss Teens May Face
There are many different types and causes of grief and loss that teens can experience, including:
- Death of a loved one: The loss of a family member, friend, or pet can be devastating for a teenager and can lead to feelings of grief, sadness, and loneliness.
- Divorce or separation of parents: Teenagers may experience grief and loss as a result of their parents' divorce or separation, which can impact their sense of stability and security.
- Relocation: Moving to a new location or school can be challenging for teenagers and may cause them to experience grief and loss as they say goodbye to familiar surroundings and friends.
- Illness or disability: When a loved one becomes ill or disabled, it can cause feelings of grief and loss for a teenager, especially if the illness or disability results in significant changes to the loved one's quality of life.
- Chronic or terminal illness: When a loved one is diagnosed with a chronic or terminal illness, it can cause feelings of grief and loss for a teenager as they grapple with the prospect of losing someone they love.
- Trauma: Traumatic events, such as natural disasters, acts of violence, or accidents, can cause teenagers to experience grief and loss.
- Breakup or end of a friendship: The end of a romantic relationship or friendship can cause feelings of grief and loss for a teenager.
Teen grief and loss are complex issues that can be caused by a variety of factors, and can co-occur with other mental health conditions including depression, trauma, and behavioral problems. It's important to acknowledge and validate their experiences, and to provide support and resources to help them cope.
Factors That Can Influence the Way a Teenager Copes With Grief and Loss
Some of these risk factors include:
- Personality and temperament: Some teenagers may have personalities that are better equipped to handle stress and emotional challenges, while others may struggle more with these types of experiences.
- Previous experiences with loss: Teenagers who have experienced loss in the past may have developed coping skills or support systems that help them better manage their emotions during difficult times.
- Support network: Teenagers who have strong support systems in place, including family, friends, and community, may be better able to cope with grief and loss than those who lack these resources.
- Mental health: Teenagers with pre-existing mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression, may struggle more with grief and loss as their symptoms may be exacerbated by the emotional stress of loss.
- Relationship to the person who died or caused the loss: The closer the relationship was between the teen and the person who died or caused the loss, the more intense their grief may be.
- Circumstances of the loss: The circumstances of the loss, such as the cause of death, the age at which the loss occurred, or the suddenness of the loss, can also impact a teenager's ability to cope.
- Access to resources and support: Teenagers who have access to resources and support, such as therapy, grief support groups, or medication, may be better able to manage their grief and loss than those who do not have these resources.
It's important to note that grief and loss can impact each individual differently and that what may be a normal or healthy way of coping for one person may not be the same for another. It's important to provide support and resources to all teenagers who are struggling with grief and loss.
Because the types and factors that influence grief and loss are complex, it is best to consult a mental health professional who can properly diagnose what is happening with your teenager.
Importance of Early Intervention & Treatment for Grief & Loss in Teenagers
Early intervention refers to recognizing the warning signs of grief in teens and acting before it gets worse. When you realize that your teen is struggling with grief and loss, it’s important to get professional treatment before it becomes worse.
Some of the benefits of early intervention include:
- Prevents escalation of symptoms: Grief and loss can cause a wide range of emotional, behavioral, and physical symptoms that can escalate if left untreated. Early intervention can help prevent these symptoms from becoming more severe and potentially causing long-term harm.
- Promotes healing and recovery: Grief and loss can be a long and difficult journey, but with the right support and resources, teenagers can heal and recover. Early intervention can provide the support and resources needed to help the teenager navigate their healing process in a healthy and effective way.
- Reduces risk of complications: Grief and loss can also increase the risk of complications such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and self-harm. Early intervention can help prevent these complications from developing and provide the teenager with the support they need to address them if they do arise.
- Supports healthy coping strategies: Early intervention can help teach teenagers healthy coping strategies for managing their emotions and working through their grief and loss. This can help them avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms that can lead to further harm and prolong the healing process.
- Improves long-term outcomes: Early intervention has been shown to improve long-term outcomes for those struggling with grief and loss. Teenagers who receive early support and treatment are more likely to recover more quickly and be able to resume their normal activities and relationships with greater ease.
Not Seeking Grief Treatment May Be Harmful: The Effects of Untreated Grief on Teens
Lack of grief treatment may stem from stigma associated with mental health, lack of access to care, or simply not knowing where to go for help. But the longer it takes for your teen to receive help, the more difficult their recovery can be. Delays in treatment time can cause other serious consequences too. The short-term and long-term effects of untreated grief on teenagers struggling with a loss can be serious and far-reaching.
Short-term effects of untreated grief may include:
- Emotional distress: Grief and loss can cause intense emotional distress in teenagers, including feelings of sadness, anger, guilt, and despair. If left untreated, these emotions can become overwhelming and lead to depression and anxiety.
- Behavioral problems: Teenagers who are struggling with untreated grief may exhibit problematic behaviors, such as withdrawing from social activities, acting out, and engaging in risky behaviors.
- Physical symptoms: Grief and loss can cause physical symptoms such as changes in appetite, sleep patterns, and energy levels. These physical symptoms can become more severe if grief is left untreated and can contribute to further physical health problems.
- School refusal / decreased academic or personal performance: Teenagers who are struggling with untreated grief may have difficulty concentrating and may see a decline in their academic or personal performance.
Long-term effects of untreated grief can include:
- Prolonged healing: If grief and loss are left untreated, the healing process can be prolonged, making it difficult for the teenager to move forward and return to a healthy and productive life.
- Chronic emotional distress: If grief and loss are not addressed, the emotional distress that is experienced in the aftermath of loss can become chronic, affecting the teenager's mental health for years to come.
- Increased risk of self-harm: Grief and loss can increase the risk of self-harm, including cutting and suicide. Teenagers who are struggling with untreated grief may be at higher risk for these behaviors.
- Difficulty forming relationships: Grief and loss can impact a teenager's ability to form healthy relationships and maintain meaningful connections with others.
Early Intervention Is Important For Healing Grief in Teens & Their Families
Early intervention and treatment can greatly benefit families of teens struggling with grief by providing the tools, resources, and support necessary for the teen to effectively process their feelings and emotions. Providing a safe and supportive environment for the teen to heal can also improve family dynamics and strengthen family bonds.
Early intervention also helps families learn coping skills and healthy ways to manage their emotions, which can lead to better mental health outcomes in the future. By addressing grief early on, families can build resilience and learn to navigate life's challenges together in a healthy and effective way.
Short-Term Residential Treatment for Teen Grief & Loss
If your teenager is dealing with grief and loss, ThreePeaks' residential treatment program can help. We understand the unique challenges associated with healing from loss and have developed an effective approach to address these difficulties.
Our short-term program combines compassionate talk therapy with the healing power of nature, providing a holistic approach to healing. Led by experienced therapists who specialize in grief recovery, our dedicated team offers individualized care to each of our clients.
During the program, your teenager will engage in therapeutic activities such as hiking and camping, allowing them to connect with nature and find solace in its healing presence. The serene environment provides a metaphorical journey for healing, while the challenges faced in treatment can be translated into coping skills for everyday life.
One of the significant benefits of our program is empowering teens to take ownership of their healing process and develop the necessary skills for long-term recovery. Our program serves as a stepping stone towards healing, allowing them to continue their progress even after the program ends.
We understand that selecting a treatment program for your teenager can be a daunting decision, and we are here to support you every step of the way. Our team is available to answer any questions and provide additional information about our specialized program for grief and loss. With the right support, we believe your teenager can find healing, resilience, and a renewed sense of purpose as they navigate their journey of grief and move forward toward a brighter future. Contact us today to learn how we can help your family.
Benefits of a Nature-Based Short-Term Residential Treatment Program
Being immersed in nature can have a profound impact on a teenager. It improves their mental, emotional, and physical health. Combined with a proven clinical approach, our therapeutic program helps teens heal from grief and loss. Here are specific benefits your family can expect to see while your teen is in nature-based short-term residential treatment.
The first stage of effective short-term residential treatment focuses on assessment and stabilization.
By observing your teen in a novel environment, our experienced therapists gain a deep understanding of what is really happening with your child. Research indicates accurate mental health assessments can lead to a 20% reduction in the number of days in treatment.
Mental health stabilization provides a safe environment to deescalate your teen’s level of distress and/or reduce their acute symptoms of mental illness. Until teens feel genuinely safe, they cannot begin to heal. One therapeutic modality emphasizes that “Cues of safety are the treatment” and “safety is defined by feeling safe and not simply by the removal of threat.” It is not enough to merely tell a teen in crisis that they are mentally and emotionally safe, they must actually feel and believe it.
Once your teen feels safe, our nature-based residential treatment program provides a novel and challenging environment that disrupts their unhealthy patterns and behaviors. Behaviors that either:
- cause your teen's mental & emotional health struggles
- or that your teen has developed as a negative way of coping with their struggles.
The second stage of an effective residential treatment program focuses on engaging teens in the therapeutic process and empowering them with the skills needed to thrive.
1. Engaging Teens in Therapy (even if they’ve been resistant to it before)
The ThreePeaks Ascent treatment program is designed to re-engage teens in healthy adolescent development. When your teen attends a short-term residential program, they are taken away from negative distractions they may have at home. They engage in treatment in a way that would not be possible in any other setting.
Your teen will participate in individual, group, and family therapy sessions while in treatment. This allows them to process their behavior as well as make changes in their personal life and family relationships. They are also able to learn from their peers, realize they are not alone in their struggles, and gain motivation to make changes.
We've found that by the time of discharge, 90% of teens were actively engaged in treatment. When contacted six months after treatment, most of these teens maintained the motivational progress they made during treatment.
2. Empowering Teens Through Skill Development
As your teen engages in the therapeutic process, they’ll start to see huge progress. But for long-term healing, it is not enough to only alleviate your teen’s struggles, we must also empower them with the skills needed to thrive in life. These skills include:
- Self-awareness skills like a growth mindset, identifying one's feelings, developing interests & sense of purpose
- Self-management skills like emotional regulation, self-motivation, resilience, setting & achieving goals, planning & time management
- Responsible decision-making skills like showing curiosity & open-mindedness, anticipating & evaluating the consequences of one’s actions, internal locus of control
- Relationship skills like communicating effectively, seeking & offering support, resolving conflicts constructively
- Social awareness skills like showing empathy & compassion for others, taking others’ perspective, recognizing strengths in others
Your teen is powerful, intelligent, and capable. They are among the leaders of tomorrow. That is why the third stage of our short-term residential treatment program focuses on helping teens redirect their previously misused potential toward developing mastery in life.
Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche observed years ago, “Happiness is the feeling that power is increasing—that resistance is being overcome.” When teens develop competence and mastery they:
- gain self-reliance and self-confidence
- become more resilient
- have a greater sense of meaning and purpose
- and better resist negative emotions.
Overall, building mastery helps teens develop a positive mindset. Because they feel competent and in control, they go from feeling, “I’m not capable” to “I can do this!”
About the Author
Steven DeMille, Ph.D. LCMHC
Steven DeMille is the Executive Director of ThreePeaks Ascent. He is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. His educational experience includes an MA in Mental Health Counseling and a Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision. His research focus is on Nature-Based Short-Term Residential Treatment, nature, adolescent development, and counseling ethics. He is actively involved in the counseling and psychology profession and holds regional and national leadership positions. He publishes and presents on Nature-Based Short-Term Residential Treatment and the use of the outdoors. This is done around the world at the national and international conference levels.
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