Early bereavement, a period of intense grief and mourning, can have a profound impact on an adolescent’s immediate and long-term mental health and behaviour. Bereaved children are at risk of depression, unresolved grief, and other emotional and behavioural issues.

It’s important to provide assistance early to bereaved children, providing support and coping strategies that can be internalised and applied on their path to adulthood. Group interventions, with the aid of a trained facilitator or counsellor, have shown some promise in alleviating some of the negative outcomes associated with childhood bereavement. Researchers in South Africa investigated the effectiveness of a theory-based support group for bereaved female adolescents.

Participants were females aged between 13 and 17 years who had experienced the death of someone important in their lives. The girls were randomised to the intervention or the control group, who were waitlisted for enrolment in the program after the study concluded. The intervention was carried out during school hours and was guided by cognitive behavioural therapy principles, delivered in a culturally appropriate context.

The group met each week for interactive sessions that focused on the experience of grief, coping skills, and understanding the link between feelings, thoughts and behaviours. The participants completed homework that focused on developing goals and recognising and challenging negative thoughts. After three months, the girls were assessed for self-reported grief and depression, and caregiver-reported behavioural problems.

An average of 4.5 years had passed since participants’ loss. The intervention group showed significant reductions in self-reported grief and depression. Caregivers also reported fewer behavioural problems in adolescents in the intervention group.

Implications

Given the setting of the study, gender of participants and focus on vulnerable populations, further research is needed to ascertain the transferability of these results to other demographics. The results of this study suggest, however, that a school-based group support program may be an engaging, effective and affordable method of improving outcomes in bereaved teenagers.

If you are depressed or experiencing suicidal thoughts call Lifeline on 13 11 14 for free and confidential support.

Last Reviewed: 29/12/2019

© Norman Swan Medical Communications.



References

Thurman, R et al. (2017). Effect of a bereavement support group on female adolescents’ psychological health: a randomised controlled trial in South Africa. The Lancet http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S2214-109X(17)30146-8. 

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