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Indications for Complicated Grief in a Teenager
By Tom McLeod

Grief can become complicated for a number of reasons for a teenager who experiences the death of someone close to him or her.

A violent death almost always calls for the assistance of a family-oriented mental health professional. In addition, if any of the signs of normal grief outlined below are exaggerated, then the help of a healthcare professional, social worker or counselor may be needed.

Examples of complicated grief in a teen include:

  • Nightmares or insomnia, when they are significantly disruptive to sleep for more than 10 days.
  • Loss of appetite, when it is significant and lasts more than a week.
  • Inability to socialize with others or self-isolation, when it lasts more than 10 days.
  • Inability to get out of bed, when it lasts more than 10 days.
  • Abandonment of good grooming and self-care in a normally neat and well-groomed teen, when it lasts for more than 10 days.

Immediate help should be sought if there is:

  • Extreme inappropriate and aggressive behavior that is dangerous to self or others.
  • Death threats to others.
  • Hints at suicidal behavior, such as giving away valued personal possessions or clothing; a preoccupation with suicidal themes in the news, movies, music or literature; and/or using such expressions as “I just want to kill myself.”

These indicators can be a sign of real trouble for the teen and his or her immediate family, friends and associates. These indicators may be no more than a cry for help—but it is a cry that must be answered within 24 hours or less. Give the teen the suicide/crisis hotline number in your area. Contact the teen’s physician or school counselor for a mental health referral in your area. Ensure that your teen is safe before you leave him or her alone.

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