Traumatic Bereavement: Helping children and young people who are struggling

A short animation introducing traumatic bereavement in the school environment.

This animation introduces concepts that are key to understanding traumatic bereavement. It communicates evidence-based information from the UK Trauma Council, sharing our current understanding of the impact of traumatic bereavement on children and young people.

Mark: You ok?

Jeanie: It’s Wesley. It’s a while since his Dad got ill and died. But I’m still worried. I know every bereavement is hard to manage and everyone’s grief is individual, it’s just that – he doesn’t seem to be managing life very well.

Raffia: Some bereavements can be extra tricky…shall we think about how our other pupils have responded to someone dying?

Mark: When I think back to Prisha and her Mum dying – she was really sad, it’s just that she also had better moments- when she’d share photos of her Mum, Just wanting to keep her memories of Mum alive.

Raffia: There’s an idea that young people often grieve in puddles, dipping in and out of their grief – experiencing strong feelings and then going off to do their usual things in between! Do you think Wesley’s stuck in a puddle?

Jeanie: It’s more that he’s stuck in a well.

Raffia: Remember Cara? She was really struggling. The bereavement service called it traumatic bereavement.

Jeanie:  Traumatic bereavement?

Raffia:  when there is something about the death that is just too much to cope with, and so they keep on struggling.

Jeanie: Isn’t all bereavement traumatic?

Raffia: Well, when someone you know or love dies, it’s always going to be really difficult in one way or another, but it won’t necessarily be traumatic bereavement.

Jeanie: what makes it traumatic?

Raffia: There are some circumstances that can make a bereavement more likely to be traumatic ….

Mark: Well, Cara lost her brother to suicide. I wonder if that was part of making it traumatic?

Raffia: Plus  there had already been a lot of difficulties in her past. But it’s about the trauma of the death getting in the way of grieving the loss … because the death changes the way they see things, it sort of colours their view of everything – the world, other people, even themselves – it’s about what meaning they make of the death.

Jeanie: Could Wesley’s bereavement be traumatic? He didn’t see anything awful.

Raffia: But he could have imagined it. You said he struggled with not being able to visit Dad in hospital, couldn’t say goodbye or be with his Mum when Dad was dying. We know it wasn’t his fault, but maybe he feels he let his Mum and Dad down?

Jeanie: he can’t bear to look at his Dad’s photos- it’s just too painful because all his mind can think of is his mum being alone when his Dad died. And not being able to say goodbye.

Raffia: for Cara, she was so frightened by what happened to her brother the whole world became a scary place.

Mark: At first, we didn’t see Cara’s fear, just her angry outbursts. Maybe it’s the same with Wesley.

Jeanie: it’s so hard to know what to  expect with grief- it’s so individual isn’t it?

Raffia: Yeah, but it might be useful to think about what they were like before the death. How much have they changed? Are these changes still overwhelming them often? Is anything starting to get easier or is it still really hard? And, it is important to think about their history. Have you talked this through with Mum?

Jeanie: Yes Mum agrees, there’s  definitely a big change in Wesley since his Dad died: he’s not so motivated, he’s lost his  spark. His academic work is taking a nosedive. At first, I thought, fair enough. I expected him to be doing better by now. But, if anything, things might be getting worse, maybe this is a traumatic bereavement. What should I do?

Raffia:  It’s already a big help that you have noticed his difficulties and have him in mind.  Keep the relationship going, the communication, the trust and the care.  And then let’s talk about a specialist referral to help Wesley address his trauma and grieve his loss.  If we stick with Wesley and his mum, I’m hopeful that things will get better.
















Learn more

This animation is part of a set of traumatic bereavement resources, which supports schools, colleges and practitioners working with children and young people.

You can download a guidebook for schools and colleges, a clinical guide for practitioners, watch explainer videos, and learn about the research here.

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