This week is Grief Awareness Week. We want to share a story that shows how grief impacts young people. 

In 2019 we had a workshop heavily disrupted by a young person. She refused to take part in any activities, threw her writing equipment across the room and verbally abused the programme facilitator.

By calmly talking to her about her behaviour and what was going on with her it was discovered that she was dealing with grief, the loss of a father.

We posted our experience on social media and got lots of engagement (see image below). People could relate to our experience and it served as a reminder as to how difficult grief can be to deal with and how it manifests itself in different ways.

Grief and young people

For an adult, processing thoughts about death are difficult. As a young person these feelings can be too much. There’s no guidebook on understanding the mix of emotions being felt.

The psychoanalyst and child psychotherapist Margot Waddell once wrote that particularly when you’re young: ‘…individuals may investigate who they are by projecting aspects of themselves into others and relating to them there’ [1].

In short, young people often try to make others feel what they are feeling in the hope they will be heard and understood.

The young girl in the workshop was, probably unknowingly, asking for help. It came out in a way that perhaps felt easier to handle than saying the words, ‘I’m sad’, ‘I’m angry’, or ‘I miss my dad’.

Look beyond the behaviour

What happened in the workshop was a perfect example of why it is important with children and young people to look past the behaviour, and to ask yourself what is really going on?

Only then can we help them to feel heard and understood. Only then can we help them to look at how they approach life and relationships.

A key part of the workshops and programmes we run are about helping young people to understand their feelings, so that they can find a more constructive way to express them.

How to help someone with their grief

If you know someone who is grieving, the best thing to do is to listen to them, share memories with them about the person they have lost, and be understanding if they don’t want to talk just yet [2].

Marie Curie [3]offers these useful tips for helping a friend through grief:

  • Listen without interrupting – let them talk about their loved one, it’s a good way for them to cope with the grief.
  • Let them express their emotion – make them feel safe expressing how they feel, no matter how difficult that might be.
  • Make specific offers of help – they may find it difficult to make decisions and focus on what’s needs to be done.  Offer to do things for them, like to go the shops or take them out.
  • Be patient – grief doesn’t go away, it takes time and you may need to be sensitive to their change in moods.

The bereavement charity Cruse point out that while everyone goes through grief at some point, each experience is very different.  They advise to: ‘Bear with them and try to find out what they need’ [4].

Where to go for help

If you are going through grief yourself, then talk to someone and tell them how you feel.  If you’re not sure who to talk to, here are some useful websites to visit:

  • Hope Again is a youth website run by Cruse Bereavement Support.  They offer a helpline on 0808 808 1677
  • Grief Talk provides bereavement support for children and young people on 0808 802 0111.
  • Sudden also provides some useful advice on their website as well as a helpline on 0800 260 0400.
  • Winston’s Wish provides bereavement support to young people up to the age of 25. They can offer advice, guidance and support free and confidential on 08088 020 021. 
  • Young Minds run a free text line 24/7 just send Text YM to 85258.  Their website also offers lots of useful information on how to cope with grief.
  • And, if you or a friend are in crisis you can call the Samaritans any time on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org.

References

[1] Inside Lives – Margot Waddell – Tavistock Clinic Series

[2] Young Minds https://www.youngminds.org.uk/young-person/my-feelings/grief-and-loss/

[3] Marie Curie Supporting a grieving friend or relative (mariecurie.org.uk)

[4] Cruse https://www.cruse.org.uk/understanding-grief/managing-grief/how-support-someone-who-grieving/


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