THE BLOG

Overcoming Childhood Bereavement

27/04/2017 09:08 BST | Updated 27/04/2017 09:08 BST

Princes William and Harry, alongside the Duchess of Cambridge, have continued their valiant efforts to raise awareness of the rising mental health problems across the UK. Their Heads Together campaign has targeted a variety of issues, from homelessness to veterans' mental health, and Prince Harry's recent interview with The Telegraph has brought to the forefront childhood bereavement - and its consequences in later life.

In his interview, Prince Harry spoke of how the loss of his mother caused him to repress his emotions for nearly twenty years and the detrimental effect this had on his professional and personal life. Though saddening, his revelation was unsurprising - research has shown that the death of a parent can be one of the most significant harmful events a child can experience, especially when it comes to the long term impact on mental health. In fact, the younger the child the more likely they will develop mental health problems in future, from anxiety and depression to substance abuse and even suicide.

In these situations, therefore, it's vital that children are provided with a safe and stable environment, with solid relationships that nurture their mental and physical wellbeing. The level of psychological and emotional support children receive following the loss of a parent can make a huge difference, in the present and in the future.

In addition to immediate family and friends, much of this support should be coming from specialist children and young people's mental health primary care services and from within the school environment. However, increasing cuts to these vital services are putting children across the country at serious risk of mental health problems now and in adulthood.

A recent RCN survey found that 7 out of 10 children's mental health nurses thought the UK's services are inadequate, while 73% there are too few nursing staff to provide the care children need.

In schools, the situation seems bleaker still. School nurses are vital for providing children with on hand support, especially during periods of bereavement. They have the knowledge and skills not only to helping children through difficult times, but also to advise teachers and other staff in supporting children's emotional wellbeing and handle issues like death in the right way.

However, numbers of school nurses have plummeted in recent years, with a 13% drop in those employed by the NHS and further cuts from local councils as their budgets are pushed to the limit. The impact is already apparent; a recent survey by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), found that though 98% of teachers have witnessed mental health problems in their students, only half have received any training or support in this area.

The Government has, it seems, made efforts to boost awareness of mental health issues in schools and to improve training for teachers. However, without the right numbers of school nurses these will remain theories rather than reality; research has shown that children are more likely to approach or confide in a school nurse in the first instance than a teacher. Their expertise has led to a wide range of highly beneficial projects, such as ChatHealth, a service which has allowed children and young people to seek help via text if they do not feel able to do so in person.

The Royal trio has shown just how important it is to support children through their emotional difficulties so that they don't follow them through their whole life. The Government is failing children and their future prospects by not having the right services in place. This is about more than just awareness - now, it is time for action.