Traumatic Grief

Following the sudden and unexpected injury or death of a co-worker, friend, or family member it is common to experience stress reactions. These emotional after shocks may occur immediately, a few hours, or a few days later. And in some cases, weeks or months may pass before the stress reactions occur.

Common Signs & Symptoms Following a Trauma

  • Repetitive, distressing thoughts of the event
  • Nightmares, frequent waking, and/ or difficulty falling asleep
  • Flashbacks so intense that you feel or act as though the trauma was happening all over again
  • Attempting to avoid thoughts or feelings associated with the trauma
  • Attempting to avoid activities associated with the trauma
  • Emotional numbness- being out of touch with your feelings
  • Losing interest in activities that used to give you pleasure
  • Persistent symptoms of anxiety, such as difficulty concentrating, difficulty making decisions, disorientation, or startling easily
  • Other physical symptoms may include: nausea, sweating, diarrhea, dizziness, rapid heart beat, and headaches
  • Other emotional symptoms may include: intense feelings of fear for self or others, anger, guilt, depression, irritability, and/ or feeling isolated.

Tips for Handling Stress Reactions After a Traumatic Event

For yourself:

  • Try to rest a bit more
  • Contact friends and/ or family
  • Talk with people you trust
  • Have someone stay with you for at least a few hours or a few days
  • Avoid alcohol- it is a depressant
  • Don’t try to numb out distressing thoughts, dreams or flashbacks
  • Journal thoughts and feelings as needed, but no longer than 15 minutes at a sitting
  • Use relaxation and breathing techniques that relax your body and your mind
  • Maintain as normal a schedule as possible
  • Eat well balanced and regular meals (or nutritious snacks throughout the day in event of nausea) and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration
  • Avoid large amounts of sugar and caffeine as they may intensify symptoms of agitation and restlessness
  • Exercise, such as a 20 minute walk, especially when supported by a caring listener, can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and improve sleep
  • Find an experienced counselor if the feelings become too prolonged or intense

For family or friends:

  • Listen carefully without interruption
  • Spend time with the traumatized person
  • Offer your assistance and a listening ear even if they have not asked for help
  • Help with everyday tasks like cooking, cleaning, errands, child-care
  • Balance the traumatized person’s need for quiet alone time with adequate social support
  • Be sensitive to stress responses, and offer your support during difficult times such as reminders of the trauma
  • Don’t try overly hard to divert the individual by talking about something else (sometimes it is best just to be silently present)
  • Don’t take their anger or other feelings personally
  • Don’t tell them they are “lucky it wasn’t worse”, instead tell them that you are sorry such an event has occurred, and that you want to understand and assist them

When to Get Help

If the symptoms described above are severe or last longer than six weeks, the traumatized person may need professional counseling. Contact a counselor through your local health care provider, or call Essentia Health Grief Support Services at 218-786-4402.

Helping Young Children, School-Age Children & Teens with Traumatic Grief

Each child and teen grieves in their own unique way. After a death that occurs under traumatic circumstances, some young children develop traumatic signs and symptoms, making it hard to cope with their loss. Get advice on ways to help a child or teen in their time of need.

If you are worried about how your child or teen is doing or if any of these problems get in the way of your child or teen having fun, going to school, being with friends, or functioning, go with your child or teen to see a mental health professional with expertise in treating traumatized children.

School-Based Resources

When your school community is affected by a traumatic event, such as a safety threat, physical disaster, accident, or death, take advantage of information about traumatic grief.

What's a Traumatic Crisis Intervention Plan?

Crisis intervention is emotional first-aid, not therapy. The goals of intervention are to:

  • Clarify and stabilize the situation
  • Mobilize resources
  • Return to normalization of routine for as many as possible, as soon as possible
  • Restore adaptive functioning
  • Facilitate healing and access to on-going help for those in need

Assumptions about the needs of our students and staff following a traumatic event:

  • To effectively process a student's grief, he/she will need a safe and secure environment
  • Coming to grips with one's own vulnerability and mortality often heightens the need to belong
  • Each person must be free to choose how they wish to deal with their emotional needs

Traumatic Event Scale of Response

Level 1: Situation is confined to an individual or small group

Level 2: Class or Grade is effected

Level 3: Multiple grade levels and potentially entire building is impacted

Level 4: Multiple buildings and sizable portion of district impacted

Level 5: Catastrophic incident with widespread and profound impact on entire school community

The Role of a Teacher

  • Acknowledge your feelings
  • Allow for and plan physical activity
  • Provide a safe place for grieving students
  • Be prepared to set limits and teach regulation skills
  • Respect diversity and individual differences
  • Encourage positive coping strategies
  • Monitor students for complicated grief response
  • Communicate concerns/resources with parents
  • Practice self-care
  • Be aware of grief upsurges during holidays, anniversaries, etc.

Looking for Support?

Call Grief Support Services at 218-786-4402 for more information regarding counseling and grief support groups for children, teens, and adults.

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