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Sudden or violent

loss of a loved one

Teen Trauma Due to Sudden or Violent Loss of a Loved One

Trauma comes in many different forms, and sometimes, severe trauma stems from a singular but life-changing event like the sudden loss of a loved one or violent loss. Child and teen trauma is far more prevalent than most understand; two-thirds of children experience some type of traumatic event by the time they reach 16 years old. 

While adults who face suddenly losing a loved one to violence or otherwise usually have the coping skills to handle the emotional impact, kids and teens most often don’t. Such a loss can have many psychological consequences, and caregivers must know how to recognize signs of severe post traumatic stress. 

Factors That Can Make a Loss More Traumatizing for a Teen

Factors affecting teens due to sudden loss of loved one

All teens experience death differently, and every teen grieves in their own ways. For example, how the teen perceives a loss can vary depending on their personality or their personal connection to the person who died. However, certain factors can heighten the traumatic impact of a loss, such as:

  • The circumstances of the loss, such as how or where the person died, are especially alarming
  • The teen was present when the person died or discovered the person after death
  • If the loss is not the first significant loss in the teen’s life
  • The teen does not have a good support network (e.g., not many friends or an uninvolved parent)
  • The teen is either younger or not emotionally mature
Post Traumatic Stress in Teens After a Tragic or Sudden Loss

Signs of Post Traumatic Stress in Teens After a Tragic or Sudden Loss

Post-traumatic stress (PTS) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can emerge in many ways, especially in a teen. As a parent or caregiver of a teen who has experienced a sudden loss, recognizing signs and symptoms of either PTS or PTSD is critical so you can intervene. A few signs and symptoms your teen is struggling with PTS or PTSD include:

  • Avoidance – Avoiding anything in relation to the traumatic event, including discussing the event or deceased.
  • Withdrawal – Isolation or withdrawal from social interactions.
  • Anxiety, Worry, or Fear – Unwarranted fear or worry, such as fear of dying or everyday situations, or seeming especially tense or irritable.
  • Behavioral Outbursts – The loss of a loved one may push teens to have violent, aggressive, or distressing emotional outbursts.
  • Shame or Guilt – Blaming themselves for the death or feeling guilt or embarrassment about the incident.
  • Numbness – Numbness or detachment and general apathy about the event and other life situations.
  • Sleep Disturbances – Nightmares, night terrors, insomnia, and sleeping too much are related to PTSD.
  • Panic Attacks – Overwhelming bouts of terror and anxiety can be characterized by difficulty breathing, nausea shaking, feeling faint, and extreme behavioral outbursts.

How Sudden or Violent Loss

Can Affect a Teen’s Development

An especially traumatic loss that leads to PTSD can also have a detrimental impact on teen development, particularly in situations when intervention or therapy does not occur. Childhood trauma can lead to:

  • Learning problems 

  • Long-term health problems like heart disease or diabetes 

  • Delayed social development 

  • Behavior problems 

  • Suicidal tendencies 

Trauma can be an underlying risk factor for almost all behavioral health concerns, including depression, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse. 

Help your teen to overcome trauma due to sudden loss

How to Help Your Teen Overcome Trauma Due to a Tragic Loss

You play a vital role in the successful recovery after an especially grievous event. Make sure to:

  • Consistently assure the teen that they are safe and provide a comforting environment
  • Be patient as your teen experiences the many emotions that can come along with the loss
  • Remain open for communication yourself, even if the event is hard to talk about

Your teen may be experiencing the loss of a loved one in a completely different way than you would expect. Unfortunately, this can make it a bit more tedious to step in and help if you feel your teen is really struggling. Reaching out to a professional for guidance is often recommended.

Treatment Options for Teen Grief and Trauma

While most teens overcome the death of a loved one and resume their normal lives within several weeks or months, some teens may not be so resilient. The grieving process is especially difficult and traumatizing in the event of a violent death.

If you have noticed signs of PTS or PTSD in your teen, seeking treatment or therapy is critical. Treatment professionals who specialize in therapeutic treatment for teen trauma can use a number of techniques that can help, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, somatic therapy, and more. 

Grief counseling is also something to consider, which can come in the form of one-on-one sessions or group counseling sessions. In especially severe situations, a residential treatment program may be recommended for more intensive care and therapy for the teen. If you would like help finding treatment options for your teen, reach out to us at TeenTrauma.com for more information or visit the resources for parents and survivors page to learn more.  


Used as reference:
Teen Trauma – background research.pdf
Market Research Report On Teenage Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Sufferers in the US.docx

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