How to help teens through grief and depression

how to help teens through grief and depression

One traumatic experience that can bring out immense grief and suffering in a teen is the death of a parent. One study by Medscape Medical News states that one in 20 people will experience the death of a parent by age 18. Teens are impressionable and a tragedy of this magnitude can cause deep emotional strain. This makes it all the more essential to treat symptoms of grief before they lead to severe cases of depression.

Signs to watch for

Though each adolescent will develop clear personality traits, many can attempt to hide feelings of grief. This is due to the fact that teens could be embarrassed about feeling such emotions. Therefore, if a parent sees a teen acting as if everything is normal, he or she may be attempting to cover up the genuine grief at work. Parents will need to be sensitive in how they break the news of a passing. Choose a quiet, calm environment and make sure there are no time constraints. Teens will need time to process the realization and ask any questions they may have as a result.

In the case of male teens, they may not believe that showing emotion is appropriate and that it makes them less masculine. A father can explain to a son why this is not the case. Of course, the adolescent’s peers can also play a strong role in determining how these issues are handled. While peers can undeniably offer consolation, it will clearly take family intervention if a crisis presents itself. This could mean family therapy is appropriate, as in the case of a parent suicide.

Suddenly, a young person can have great difficulty making decisions that were easier in the past. He or she can also experience sleeplessness and intense dreams or nightmares. Occasionally, signs of post-traumatic stress disorder can also occur. Teens could be more susceptible to changes in eating habits, as well as weight gain or weight loss. Focusing on a number of routine day to day responsibilities can take much greater effort. The parent will need to be available to share in the grieving process and find effective means of healing over time.


Bereavement therapy can be an efficient form of treatment, though it can prove difficult at first. Teens can be resistant to open up to a mental health professional, especially in times of such great emotional vulnerability. However, teens eventually may see how therapy is helping them to better cope with the loss. Once appointments have been regularly scheduled over time, the adolescents could look forward to expressing their emotions and finding appropriate solutions to deal with them.

In therapy, a mental health professional could ask teens to share positive memories of the parent who passed. They will learn that they do not need to fear memories of the person as a result of their death. In fact, sharing happy memories can prove to be a healthy and positive response. For example, the family could choose to put together a meal to honor the parent containing their favorite foods. Of course, attending events such as a funeral will prove symbolic in the passage of changes to come, as the ceremony could become a strong focus of therapy in terms of its meaning to the family.

Medication can be prescribed for teens that have an especially difficult time adjusting to the change. In teens that experience extreme depression, antidepressant medication and appropriate therapy could be used. Support groups for grieving families can also provide an atmosphere of empathy. Receiving the compassion of others going through similar life changes can make a profound difference on how a teen responds.

If an adolescent has a particular faith or religion that his or her family adheres to, this could also provide a great amount of relief. Perhaps the teen can eventually use the experience to develop a greater sense of spirituality in his or her life. Also, the young person should remember not to lose his or her sense of humor. Still being able to laugh at something that he or she would have found humorous prior to the death can also prove to be a healthy means of coping with emotions. Though sadness is inevitable, it does not mean no other emotions can be acknowledged.

However, it should be noted that making significant decisions or life changes during a time of grief could prove to be counterproductive. Grief could cause judgment to be significantly impaired at this time and the family is already enduring a major adjustment in their lives. If your family is experiencing a loss and you would like more information on how to acquire professional help for a grieving teen, contact White River Academy at 866-520-0905 to speak with a representative.

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