Understanding Grief in Children’s Mental Health during National Grief Awareness Week in the UK

Grief in Children's Mental Health cover photo

Grief is a universal human experience that affects individuals of all ages, including children. As we observe National Grief Awareness Week in the UK, it is crucial to shine a spotlight on how grief impacts children’s mental health. This blog post explores the evidence surrounding grief and its implications for children in the United Kingdom.

Grief and the impact on children’s mental health

Children, like adults, experience grief in response to various losses such as the death of a loved one, divorce, or separation. However, their understanding and expression of grief differ based on their developmental stage. Research suggests that children may exhibit grief through changes in behaviour, emotions, and even physical health.

 

Age-Appropriate Grief Responses

Children of different ages may display varying reactions to grief. Younger children may not fully grasp the concept of death, leading to confusion and anxiety. Older children and teenagers, on the other hand, might grapple with more complex emotions and may isolate themselves. Recognising age-appropriate grief responses is essential for providing adequate support.

 

Impact on Mental Health

Grief can have a profound impact on children’s mental health, potentially leading to symptoms of anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is crucial to be vigilant about changes in a child’s behaviour, academic performance, and social interactions, as these can be indicative of underlying mental health struggles.

 

The Role of Resilience

Resilience plays a significant role in how children navigate grief. 

‘It is widely recognised that the capacity to cope with adversity and even be strengthened by it –resilience – is an important factor in children and young people’s wellbeing’. – Counselling in Schools: A Blueprint for the Future, DfE, 2016

Evidence shows that these coping strategies are learnable and teachable. Resilience is relevant for all children and young people, not just those who might be considered vulnerable. This includes fostering strong support systems, encouraging open communication, and providing access to mental health resources.

In this resource, you will find five simple methods for developing children’s resilience in the classroom:  https://www.mindsahead.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/How-can-teachers-develop-children-and-young-peoples-resilience-in-the-classroom-.pdf 

Also, Merseyside Youth Association have recently launched the Resilience Wall Framework, a tool that helps you assess and enhance resilience. Find out more here:

https://resilienceframework.co.uk/ 

Mersey Grief resources platform

National Grief Awareness Week in the UK

National Grief Awareness Week, observed annually in the UK, provides an opportunity to raise awareness about the impact of grief and the importance of supporting individuals, including children, through the grieving process. This week-long initiative aims to destigmatise conversations around grief and promote understanding within communities.

How to Support Grieving Children

  • Open Communication: Encourage open and honest communication with children about their feelings. The UK organisation Winston’s Wish provides valuable resources on how to talk to children about death and grief, emphasising the need for age-appropriate language and reassurance: https://www.winstonswish.org/ 
  • Seek Professional Help: If a child’s grief is significantly impacting their mental health, seeking professional help is crucial. Organisations like Child Bereavement UK offer support services for grieving children and their families, including counselling and resources for schools: https://www.childbereavementuk.org/ 


School mental health qualifications to support children and young people's mental health

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