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Grief

All sorts of life situations can cause difficult changes and losses. Grief is the normal response to loss. It's the way people gradually adjust their lives to what’s happened.

Everyone grieves differently - there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to experience grief and there are no rules about how to grieve or timetable for when it will be over. Everyone needs time to grieve in their own way and while it will get easier to handle over time, reminders can always cause  fresh thoughts and feelings about the loss.

Grief affects all of a person – emotions, body, mind, relationships and how they see the world.

Keeping an eye out

Some common reactions to grief include:

  • Shock, numbness and dizziness
  • Crying all the time or not crying at all
  • Feelings and thoughts of sadness, anger, guilt, anxiety and loneliness
  • Becoming irritable or angry
  • Becoming quiet and withdrawn, or wanting to be with others a lot more
  • Being unable to sleep, or sleeping a lot
  • Physical aches and pains and body tension
  • Eating more, or not eating much
  • Lack of energy or feeling physically exhausted, or having hyper energy for a while

A young person who is grieving may need extra support if:

  • Their reactions continue to be concerning or extreme
  • They tell you they need some help to handle it
  • You think their safety, or that of others, is at risk
  • After many months after a loss, there are no signs of the young person moving forward through their grief – they appear ‘stuck’ and grief is seriously affecting their daily lives
  • You think they may have become depressed
  • They are having dark or suicidal thoughts
  • They begin to speak about suicide

Healthy conversations

One of the most helpful things you can do to support someone through grief is just to be there to listen, when and if they want to talk.

  • Let them know you realise they’re dealing with something difficult and offer ongoing support
  • Avoid judging them or telling them what to think or feel
  • Don’t pressure them to talk. Check in with how they’re doing, but perhaps encourage them to talk with others they trust
  • Don't take it personally if they don't want to talk. They may not want to upset you and it might be easier to open up to someone else. They might want to spend more time with their friends than their family
  • Talk about grief openly and help them to understand what’s happening to them. For example, let them know grief is normal and that everyone’s grief is different
  • At times, just being with them in silence can be what’s needed
  • If it’s a shared loss, you could talk about a few of your own thoughts about it, so they know they’re not alone in grief, but keep the focus on them and their situation. Don’t share adult information that's inappropriate for them to have to deal with
  • Remind them that you care for and love them and are there to help and support them

Taking action

If you're supporting someone through grief, take things at their pace. Grief can’t be ‘fixed’. It has to take all the time it needs to heal a person after a loss.

  • Let them grieve in their own way. They may want to look like they’re coping, but inside be hurting. Or they may be putting their emotions away to deal with later. They may find it easy to express what’s inside – or impossibly difficult
  • Check in regularly - help them feel connected and cared about
  • Recognise when they need their own space – don’t make them feel guilty for this
  • Help them to keep normal routines going as much as possible
  • Encourage them to keep connected with others. Include them and keep offering invitations, even if they’re declined
  • When a whole family, whānau or group is grieving the same loss, a young person can get overlooked. Give them time and attention, and involve them in making plans and choices
  • A long time after a loss, even years afterwards, a young person can experience new waves of grief. At different ages and stages, or as new milestones are reached, it’s normal for them to sometimes think about the loss and feel grief. Expect this. They may have new questions. Look out for when some extra support might be needed
  • Comfort them in the toughest times with hugs, making time for tears, encouragement or just being there. Or offer practical help, like driving them somewhere, fixing something broken or sorting something out for them
  • Help them take a break from grief. You could watch a movie, listen to music, hang out with friends or play sport together
  • If you’re very concerned about how intensely grief is affecting them, encourage them, or offer to take them, to see a doctor or other support professional, such as a counsellor, psychologist, social worker, community or youth worker or a local family/youth support agency

Resources 

Skylight

Skylight offers a wide range of services to support those facing tough times of change, loss, trauma and grief. It has a range of resources about how to support young people through grief

Youthline

Confidential Helpline: 0800 376 633

Youthline provides free phone, text, and email counselling support. Its website has great information for youth dealing with challenging situations including how to handle grief and loss.

After a Suicide

The After a Suicide website offers practical information and guidance if someone you love or care about has died by suicide.

Guidelines for Supporting Young People with Stress, Anxiety and/or Depression

Developed under the Prime Minister’s Youth Mental Health Project, this online resource aims to help anyone who a young person confides in about supporting their wellbeing, including support for mild to moderate mental health issues such as stress, anxiety and mild depression.

The Guidelines are designed to support people ‘walking alongside’ a young person to help them access mental health advice and support.

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