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World Teen Mental Wellness Day

Updated: May 3, 2023

World Teen Mental Wellness Day is observed around the world on March 2nd every year. The aim of this important day is to raise awareness, educate, and normalize open conversations about teen mental health. This day also provides a unique opportunity to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness, which so often makes teens reluctant to share their pain and seek help.

Statistically speaking, youth aged 15 to 24 are more likely to experience mental illness and/or substance use disorders than any other age group. In Ontario, 39% of high-school students indicate a moderate-to-serious level of psychological distress (symptoms of anxiety and depression). A further 17% indicate a serious level of psychological distress.

Teens and Grief

Adolescence, or the years between puberty and adulthood, is a time of substantial physical, intellectual, emotional, and social development. There is a desire to ‘belong’ and fit in among peers that often competes with the need for independence and the formation of one’s own personal style, identity, values, and beliefs. Adolescence is often the time when a significant loss may first be experienced (e.g., a family member, friend, or pet). During this tumultuous time of personal growth and self-discovery, the death of a loved one can have a profound impact on teens. The grief associated with the loss of a loved one is a gruelling experience for all of us and perhaps even more so during adolescence when coping skills are only beginning to develop.


Teens and the Concept of Death

Most teens have an adult understanding of the concept of death and can think more ‘abstractly’ about it in terms of their own existence. However, as mentioned above, coping skills have not yet fully developed. Past experiences and a teen’s level of emotional development can also greatly influence their concept of death. Just like adults, an adolescent’s experience with grief is unique and can be influenced by many factors including (but not limited to): their relationship with the person who died, their ability to deal with stress and intense emotions, their support system(s), and any past experiences with death and loss. Those who seek to support a grieving teen must understand that there is no one ‘magic’ formula in terms of providing support. Additionally, there is a vast range of responses to loss that are considered normal (e.g., sadness, anger, helplessness, impulsivity or reckless behaviours, attention-seeking or ‘acting-out’, withdrawal from family and/or friends, etc.).


How to Support a Grieving Teen

  • Many grieving teens still want to feel ‘normal’. As previously mentioned, adolescence is a time when most teens want to fit in and not stand out from the crowd. Sticking with regular routines as much as possible can be helpful.

  • Acknowledge their opinions, thoughts, responses, and fears. Validate their emotions and in no way minimize what they may be feeling.

  • Remember that adolescence is a time when teens may spend more time with their friends and feel more understood by them than they do with parents and other family members. Hence, teens may lean on their peers more than on the adults in their life for support.

  • Be open-minded and patient and allow them to express their grief in their own way (with the exception of self-destructive behaviours).

  • Let a grieving teen take the lead rather than telling them how to feel and how to act. Simply be there to listen and answer their questions.

  • Be honest and avoid trying to fix things (e.g., statements like ‘you’ll feel better soon’). Reassure them that a range of emotions is completely normal and that there is no timeline for grief.

  • Include them in memorializing their friend or family member if they wish (e.g., artwork, tributes, etc.).

  • Check in with other adults in their life to see how they are coping across settings (e.g., teachers, coaches, school counselors).

  • Get help if needed (or if asked for). Warning signs that additional support may be needed include (but are not limited to): suicidal ideation, self-medicating with drugs or alcohol to cope, inability to return to normal activities over time.

For more information on how to support children and youth be sure to visit HHA’s C.A.N.D.Y. CAFÉ - a program designed to help young people talk about difficult concepts and navigate challenging questions about dying, death, and grief.


References:

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Carole Brulé is an end-of-life doula, an infant and pregnancy loss doula candidate with Home Hospice Association, and a visiting home hospice and pediatric palliative care volunteer.

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