Detroit Behavioral Institute helps teens who are struggling with grief through an unmatched quality of care and support. Located in Detroit, Michigan, DBI is the leading provider of grief treatment.
Learn more about grief treatment at Detroit Behavioral Institute in Michigan
Grief is a normal reaction to loss, and going through the grieving process is an essential part of helping individuals accept that a loss has occurred. In regards to children and adolescents, successfully navigating through the grieving process is of the utmost importance in order to help them successfully manage their emotions. Grief can occur as the result of various instances but, most commonly, it is a term that is used to describe the intense, overwhelming, and painful emotions that are experienced by individuals when a loved one dies or is lost. With children and adolescents, such losses can include any number of loved ones, including parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, friends, cousins, or pets. Additional circumstances that can elicit feelings of grief in young people can include experiencing a traumatic event or learning that they or a loved one has developed a severe disability or has been diagnosed with a serious illness.
Grief is experienced differently by everyone but, at its most intense, the symptoms of grief can become so overpowering that children and adolescents begin to have difficulty getting through the tasks of their daily lives. Their lives can seem to become dominated by their distressing emotions, making it difficult for them to perform appropriately in school, interact normally at home, and engage healthily in social settings. Although grief can be all-consuming and seem unbearably painful, it is a natural response to loss or tragedy and will typically resolve as time passes.
Five stages of grief
The stages of grief have been divided into five universal stages. The grieving process will inevitably be different for everyone, just as it will be experienced differently by children and adolescents than it is in adults. However, these five stages of grief give a general outline to the ways in which loss is perceived and handled at any age or developmental stage. These stages do not occur in a specific order, meaning that some may initially feel a sense of denial, while others may start with feelings of anger. However, it is believed by most professionals in the field that everyone will eventually cycle through all of the stages before ultimately reaching acceptance. The five stages of grief are described briefly in the following:
- Denial: This stage occurs when individuals refuse to believe, or attempt to convince themselves to believe, that the loss has not truly happened. Aspects of this stage may include feelings of emotional numbness or of being in a state of shock. Denial itself is an emotion that develops as a means of protecting oneself from having to deal with overwhelming feelings or situations all at once.
- Anger: This stage occurs when individuals are completely overwhelmed by feelings of anger, and sometimes rage, at the fact that such a loss happened to them. This sense of anger can occur at any time, whether it be before or after going through a state of denial, but, regardless of when it appears, it is all-consuming for the individual. During this stage, children and adolescents typically act out in defiant, oppositional, hostile, and, at times, even aggressive behaviors.
- Bargaining: This stage is typically dominated by feelings of guilt. It is at this point when individuals begin to question why such a thing would happen to them or question what they did to deserve to be afflicted by such a tragedy. Although it may seem irrational to those who are not experiencing grief, these feelings of guilt are very real and have a tremendously negative impact on a child or adolescent’s ability to function appropriately each day. It is during this stage where children and adolescents may refuse to go to school, may begin to isolate themselves, as well as potentially begin to engage in self-harming behaviors as a means of “punishing” themselves.
- Depression / Sadness: When children and adolescents have reached this stage, they are no longer able to deny the fact that the loss occurred and they become consumed with overwhelming feelings of sadness and depression. This is not only a normal response to experiencing a loss, but it is a healthy one, and it is an important part of the grieving process.
- Acceptance: This stage occurs when children and adolescents have reached a point where they have come to terms with the fact that the loss occurred and have accepted that it is a part of their lives that they must adjust to. When youth reach this stage, it does not mean that they no longer experience negative emotions in regards to the loss, but they have been able to adjust to the change that the loss has brought to their lives. During this stage, children and adolescents may find that a sense of resolution has come over them and they are able to successfully manage their lives once again.
Signs and symptoms of grief
When children and adolescents grieve, the signs and symptoms that may be displayed will inevitably vary from child to child. Additionally, some of the symptoms may mimic those that are exhibited by adults, while others are unique to the developmental stages of childhood and adolescence. The following are various examples of signs and symptoms that could indicate that a young person is struggling with grief:
- Angry outbursts / temper tantrums
- Crying spells
- Withdrawing from friends and family / spending increasing amounts of time alone
- No longer engaging in activities once enjoyed
- Noticeable changes in behavior and temperament
- Constantly talking about the loss or refusing to speak of it at all
- Avoiding certain people, places, or situations that remind one of the loss
- Drop in academic performance or significant increase in academic performance
- Refusing to go to school
- Refusing to be separated from certain attachment figures
- Regressive behaviors (acting as though one is younger than one is)
- Changes in peer groups
- Instigating fights
- Acting out in impulsive and high-risk behaviors
- Engaging in problematic behaviors at home, in school, or in social settings
- Chronic headaches
- Chronic stomachaches
- Digestive disturbances
- Nausea / vomiting
- Sleep disturbances
- Changes in eating patterns
- Onset of panic attacks
- Becoming easily fatigued
- Experiencing difficulty concentrating or focusing
- Preoccupation with the person whom one lost or with the loss itself
- Preoccupation with death and dying
- Drastic mood swings
- Excessive anger
- Feelings of inexplicable or unwarranted guilt
- Pervasive feelings of fear and trepidation
- Anxiety, including separation anxiety
- Overwhelming feelings of worry
- Excessively irritable
- Easily agitated
- Feelings of insecurity
- Overly vulnerable
- Feeling as though one has been abandoned
- Feelings of loneliness
- Inability to regulate emotions
- Episodes of emotional detachment or emotional numbness
Effects of grief
As was previously mentioned, all children and adolescents will experience grief in varying ways. However, in most, if not all, cases, the grieving experience will inevitably take both a physical and an emotional toll on an individual. Examples of the various physical and emotional effects that can result from prolonged grief may include the following:
- Loss of appetite
- Compromised immune system / increased likelihood of becoming sick
- Feelings of loneliness
- Feelings of having been abandoned
- Feelings of anxiety and depression
- Onset of symptoms synonymous with posttraumatic stress disorder
- Beginning to engage in self-harming behaviors
- No longer participating in, or finding interest in, things or activities that were once enjoyed
- Onset of suicidal thoughts and behaviors
Why consider treatment for grief at Detroit Behavioral Institute in Michigan
Although nothing can instantly take away the feelings of grief that children and adolescents experience following a significant loss, there are some circumstances in which treatment can be beneficial in providing the support they need as they navigate through the grieving process. For children and adolescents who have begun to display significant behavioral disturbances or who have reached a level of emotional distress that is so severe that it has incapacitated their ability to fully engage in daily responsibilities, residential treatment may be necessary in order to help them identify how their grief has impacted the onset of such devastating symptoms. Residential treatment will also provide them with the thorough, consistent, around-the-clock monitoring and support of trained mental health professionals who can assist them in finding alternative ways to express their grief, while also helping them develop the coping skills needed to resume normal daily functioning. Residential treatment programs can provide these children with the tools they need to heal and to build the strengths they need to find lasting recovery.