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Advice for Young Adults: Helping Friends with Grief & Loss

Updated: Jan 15, 2023

Here on Long Island, more and more teens are facing the reality of grief and loss in their schools, community and social circles. From some local tragic accidents, to a spike in suicides, to the onslaught of local overdoses and other unfortunate circumstances, many young people are now faced with not only dealing with the loss themselves, but also supporting their peers through a difficult grief process. As adults, we are often at a loss of how to support our young people as they are so closely connected to their peer supports. Many times with teens and young adults, they tend to lean more on each other as opposed to a parent or adult when dealing with difficult emotional circumstances. A recent study states that 40% of teens report that the most helpful person in dealing with a loss was one of their peers. This was true for teenagers who were involved in support groups and for those who were not.

For teens and young adults supporting peers with grief, we have identified some simple points to remember to help them in this situation.

1. Grief is a Normal, Healthy Reaction to Death. Pain is a natural response to death as well as various other losses. Nonetheless, grieving does not really feel all-natural because it might be hard to manage the feelings, ideas, or physical sensations related to a death. The feeling of being out of control, that is commonly a component of sorrow, might overwhelm or scare some teens. Grief is normal and also healthy, yet might be an experience teenagers turn away from or try to ignore. Assisting teenagers in accepting the truth that they are grievers permits them to advance in their journey from despair to acceptance.

2. Everyone Grieves in Their Own Way. Mourning is a different occurrence for each and every one of us. Teens (and also adults) grieve for various measures of time, as well as express a wide spectrum of different feelings. Unhappiness and weeping might be an expression of sorrow for one teen, while another might react by using their sense of humor to stay afloat. There is no book or therapist who can suggest precisely what a person needs to go through to get back to “normal”. We can all help grieving, young adults by putting them in the role of a teacher, while we listen and learn from their experience.

3. There is no Right or Wrong Way to Grieve. At times, adults share staunch point of views around correct or incorrect methods of grieving. However, there is no right or wrong way to mourn. Dealing with the passing of a loved one does not comply with general rules or any one basic pattern. There are, however, “helpful”, and of course “unhelpful”, actions that go along with grieving. Some constructive actions encourage facing the sorrow head on, for example discussing it with good friends, writing in a journal, making art, or expressing those feelings somehow instead of holding them in. Different, unhelpful actions can be destructive and also might cause lasting effects. Some people might try to escape their discomfort with alcohol and drugs, impulsive acts, shying away from social activities, over-sleeping, developing risky habits, and many other methods that momentarily numb the discomfort of their loss. While this might temporarily make someone forget about their pain, it will only make the grieving process more difficult.

4. Every Loss is Unique. The method in which we grieve is different according to each individual’s personality and the specific connection they had with the person who has passed. It’s normal for people to react in varying ways when it comes to the death of a parent, sibling, grandparent, child, or friend. For scores of teens, connections with their peers come first. Within a household, everyone may mourn in a different way at various times. One person might be more talkative, while someone else may tend to have bouts of crying. Others might become withdrawn. This can create tension and misunderstandings within the family, who, as a whole, is already stressed. Everyone’s unique response to death must be recognized as his or her own way of dealing with it.

5. The Grieving Process is Influenced by Multiple Factors.

The effect of death on a peer is influenced by a mix of elements consisting of:

• Social support systems available (household, good friends and/or community).

• How, where and when the individual passed.

• Whether the individual died expectedly, or if the circumstance was completely unexpected.

• Whether the nature of the relationship with the deceased was conflicted.

• Previous experiences with death. Even if a person was not close with the individual who passed away, death may bring about feelings from previous losses.

6. Grief is an Ongoing Process. Grief doesn’t ever truly go away, but it does transform in personality and strength. Feelings of grief can be compared to the constantly moving tides of the ocean; Running the range from calm, low tides to seemingly violent high tides. Feelings change like the weather.

7. No Need to Fix; Just Listen & Validate. When supporting someone who is going through a period of grief, we must keep in mind that we can’t take away the person’s pain. We can however, comfort those we love by providing a listening ear and trying to validate their feelings. At times, just the feeling that they are not so alone can be one of the most comforting things for a person who is experiencing a loss.

Symptoms of grief with teens and young adults may present themselves physically, emotionally or socially. Some of the most common symptoms of grief are presented below:

  • Crying

  • Headaches

  • Feelings of Detachment or Isolation from Friends and Family

  • Anxiety

  • Frustration & Anger

  • Guilt

  • Fatigue and/or Difficulty Sleeping

  • Loss of Appetite

  • Aches and Pains

  • Stress

Getting Support For Grief

When experiencing a loss, it is important to remember that you don’t have to go through this alone. Many young people are fortunate enough to be surrounded by friends, family or teachers that truly care for them and their wellbeing. Leaning on them in times of difficulty might not only help you, but may help them as well if they have also experienced this particular loss (or any loss in their past for that matter). Counseling can also be invaluable when facing grief. Support groups, bereavement groups, or individual counseling can assist you with working through unresolved trauma. This is a great thing to do if you discover that your grief is creating obstacles in your daily life. If you or a loved one is having an especially hard time coping with grief or mourning, speak to a healthcare professional.

Speak with a parent, teacher, school counselor or a doctor right away if you experience thoughts of suicide or feelings of detachment for more than two weeks. Also seek help if you experience a sudden shift in behavior, or believe you are suffering from depression.

For additional questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to contact a mental health professional at Gooding Wellness Group.

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