• Grief / Loss

    Studies with depressed teens show they had more stressful life events / losses in the year prior to their being depressed. Some mood disorders may, in fact, be precipitated by a loss.

    Grieving a loss is a lot of work and takes time.  It is important, though, for teens to work through the grief process so healing can occur.  It is also important that they get support to do this.  For instance, many teens have benefitted from being involved in grief support groups where they are with other teens who have experienced similar losses.  Other ways to support teens who are grieving can be found at the Cincinnati Children's Bereavement Support page.

    It is normal for teens to experience temporary difficulty in functioning at school or in social situations after a loss. However, when symptoms of depression persist for longer than two months, the child should be evaluated by a professional.   It is important to respect a teen’s right to grieve or mourn the loss of a loved one, which is explained in the Mourners Bill of Rightsfor children and teens. There is no time limit for grieving. It may take years for some teens to resolve, accept or forgive the loss. In fact, children may often revisit sadness over their losses through the years.  Unresolved grief, however, causes one to be less able to cope. 

    There are four major theories about the stages of grieving. No one theory, however, adequately explains everyone’s experience with grief since the grief process is fairly complex and personal. In reality, people do not simply progress from one stage to the next.  Instead, they may move back and forth, experience more than one stage at a time, or move through the stages in a different order.  Nevertheless, many people who are grieving a loss will identify with some of the stages described in any one of the theories. For instance, one family found that many of the stages of the Kubler-Ross Stages of Grief applied to their own experience of losing their 19-year-old son and brother in a motorcycle accident.  Although this theory was created to explain the stages of grief for a dying person, some of its stages can be applied to those who are grieving a loss of a loved one as well, which is illustrated in the below examples.  

  • Five Stages of Grieving

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    This is a protective mechanism that helps the person to function for the time being. With denial, the person may refuse to believe what happened. For instance, one teen was waiting for her friend to come to her graduation party and kept texting him to see when he would be there. Finally, she got a call from his sister telling her that he was killed in a motorcycle accident. She refused to believe he was dead, however, and reacted by telling the sister she was lying. Of course, his friend was experiencing shock. During shock, the person can function as though nothing happened, but may feel like she is in a surreal world or place.

    Often there is blaming others for the loss or lashing out at people. Sometimes people act out their anger in other ways. The mother of  a teen realized she was blaming her son for causing his own death after she began telling his friends, “Please, don’t do this to your mothers.” In essence, she was saying to her son, “Look what you’ve done to me.” The anger needs to be processed, though. The mother began to realize that her son was a teenager and that teenagers take risks. Teenagers’ brains aren’t fully developed in the area of judgment, so they don’t gauge risks the same way as an adult. Also, there were other factors that contributed to her son’s death besides his risk-taking behavior. Working through the anger helps a person to move through the other stages of grieving.

    This often involves either cutting a contract with yourself, asking your higher power to take you out of the situation or fantasizing that this is some sort of dream and tomorrow you’ll wake up and it will never have happened. This stage helps the person to feel some control over the situation. For example, when one mother saw her son in the hospital emergency room lying dead in a body bag after all attempts of resuscitation had failed, she laid over his body begging God to breathe life back into him, praying for a miracle.

    This stage involves a lot of “what ifs.” The person now turns the anger inward and blames herself for the loss. Often this is false guilt, though, and the person really had no control over what happened or no real way to prevent it. This stage provides an opportunity for the person to grow spiritually and perhaps further develop spiritual beliefs as she searches for the meaning or purpose of life, death, pain and suffering. Even if the person is somehow at fault, perhaps the person’s actions or shortcomings are being used as part of a greater plan.

    Accepting the loss doesn’t mean you like what happened. It does mean that you are trusting that life can be good again in spite of the hurt and pain the loss has caused you. Sometimes we need to forgive the loss or perhaps someone who has directly caused our pain or grief. Forgiving means letting go of bitterness and revenge, which only harm us and not the offender. To be unforgiving means we are not moving on and letting go, but continuing to allow ourselves to be hurt by the other party or the loss.  We feel more powerless when we keep wanting something from others that they cannot give us. Perhaps this is an apology or maybe a change of heart. Nevertheless, we can always grow and move on without seeing any change in the other person or getting back what was taken from us. We take back our power in the situation when we begin reversing the negative consequences in our lives and perhaps by finding new purposes and meanings for our lives.

  • One Patient's Story

    A couple of years after her dad committed suicide, Sam Potter wanted her life to be over, too. Treatment at Cincinnati Children's turned things around.

    A couple of years after her dad died from suicide, Sam Potter wanted her life to be over, too. Treatment at Cincinnati Children's turned things around.

    Listen to her story.

  • Brother’s Death Burned into Memory

    Not many people can pinpoint the minute their life changed. A brother’s death in a motorcycle accident means life will never be the same for his siblings. 

    Read more