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Two Daughters




The Unique Challenges of Grief in Young Adulthood

by Shannon Bell

Photo source: Yale University. Photo credit: Michael Marsland.

Young adulthood is characterized by a series of life transitions. While many of these constitute important steps in personal and professional growth, they are often accompanied by higher levels of stress, instability, and insecurity about one’s identity and independence (Arnett, 2000).

When I left home and started university, I felt insecure, lonely, and anxious. These feelings manifested in disordered eating, which I contended with throughout my undergraduate years. Near the end of my undergraduate degree, I developed chronic pain. After a year and a half of searching for the cause, I learned that the pain was a result of my untreated anxiety and depression. Once I began a treatment regimen for anxiety, the pain went away. Just a few months later, however, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. Three years after that, she passed away.

Having to face a parent’s mortality at any age is difficult. Young adults, however, are already expected to juggle a multitude of stressors. Young adulthood is a series of new beginnings. Many are starting college, jobs, or relationships. We lean on the constants in our life, often our family, to get us through the anxiety of not knowing fully what comes next. We rarely expect that in a period that’s all about beginnings, we’ll have to process an untimely end.

Losing a parent early in adulthood feels painful. It also feels wrong. For many young adults, the vision of how their future would look may be totally upended. One study from 2007 found that women who lost their mothers early in adulthood felt like their life had split in two; like they had one identity from before their mom died and another from after (Schultz, 2007).

Though young adulthood is characterized as a journey towards independence and self-fulfillment, it is also a period of tumultuous change. As a result, many young adults struggle during this time to manage their mental health. Having to contend with an unexpected life crisis at this stage only exacerbates existing mental health challenges, especially when those impacted don’t have access to supportive resources (Balk, Tyson-Rawson, & Colletti-Wetzel, 1993).

Mental health disorders often set in before or during young adulthood. Half of anxiety and depression cases set in before ages 25 and 31, respectively (Solmi et al. 2022). Just under two-thirds of all mental health disorders set in before age 25 (Solmi et al. 2022), meaning that many young people are still determining how to best manage their mental health during this time. The Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey data from 2023 showed that half of adults ages 18-25 and 38% of adults ages 25-49 reported anxiety and depression symptoms. These were the highest levels across all age groups.

Census data from 2021 show that just over 11% of young adults ages 18 to 29 and nearly one-quarter of adults ages 30 to 39 have lost at least one parent. These percentages are significantly higher for Black young adults. Still, the resources available for people grieving in these age groups are lacking. Studies have found that young people find talking through their feelings and experiences with other people that have been through similar situations particularly helpful. Interaction through support groups has been shown to build trust and strong empathetic bonds between members, since many have experienced similar pain (Balk, Tyson-Rawson, and Colletti-Wetzel 1993).

That’s why what we hope to accomplish with the Two Daughters Foundation is so important. In our 20s and early 30s, we aren’t children anymore. While we may be more independent in many aspects of our life, we often still lean on our parents for support. Since we are in constant motion, our core support network may be distant. Our local support system might not be established yet. Grief in these circumstances is incredibly lonely. Despite all of this, there aren’t consistent places for us to turn to for compassion, empathy, and peer support.

Two Daughters Foundation aims to change that. By providing resources specifically catered to the needs of young adults, offering local, accessible peer support groups, and bringing light to the specific challenges of grief in young adulthood, we hope to help young adults find the coping skills and connections they need to move forward and inspire others.

We are still a small non-profit, but we have an ambitious vision for change. We have personally experienced and witnessed the benefits of having a group of peers to turn to amidst the isolation of grief and uncertainty. We want that experience to be available to anyone in our shoes, nationwide. However, we need the support of others to get there. If you’d like to help us achieve our goals, please visit our Donate page and help us build a strong, expansive network of support for all those facing grief and loss early in life.


Arnett, J. J. (2000). Emerging adulthood: A theory of development from the late teens through the twenties. American Psychologist, 55(5), 469–480. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.55.5.469 


Balk, D. E., Tyson-­Rawson, K., & Colletti-­Wetzel, J. (1993). Social support as an intervention with bereaved college students. Death Studies, 17(5), 427–450. doi:10.1080/07481189308253387


Schultz, L. E. (2007). The influence of maternal loss on young women’s experience of identity development in emerging adulthood. Death Studies, 31(1), 17–43. doi: 10.1080/07481180600925401


Solmi, M., Radua, J., Olivola, M. et al. Age at onset of mental disorders worldwide: large-scale meta-analysis of 192 epidemiological studies. Mol Psychiatry 27, 281–295 (2022).