Prince Harry's admission that he didn't speak about his mother's death for years is a stark reminder that many children deal with emotional trauma that would knock most adults sideways, in silence and on a daily basis.
Harry lost his mother, the Princess of Wales in 1997 when he was just 12. Sadly it is not uncommon for children and young people to lose a loved one - be a parent or a sibling - and most have to process the death of a grandparent. In an average class of 15 year olds, one is likely to have experienced the death of a parent. Bereavement in children and young people is more frequent than many people think. In one survey, 78% of 11-16 year olds said that they had been bereaved of a close relative or friend.
As highlighted by the Heads Together campaign, it is important that anyone experiencing times of difficulty has a support network in place - people they feel they can talk to and who will listen to them. This seems like a straightforward answer - but it is not always that easy. We need to see a proactive approach, focussing on the prevention of the development of mental health problems.
We need to be ensuring that all children and young people are supported, particularly those who are most at risk of internalising adversity and not reaching out for support. Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Prince Harry said that it's okay to struggle as long as you talk about it. "[talking about] it is not a weakness. Weakness is having a problem and not recognising it and not solving that problem".
We know that boys in particular can struggle to talk about difficulties they face, that's why it is vital we support boys to believe it is safe to open up about issues such as bereavement and loss, ensuring that counselling and support groups are easily accessible to them during times of difficulty. This need highlights a key tenant of the mental ill-health prevention agenda; spotting children who are at risk and acting early to avoid the development of mental ill-health.
The effective support of people experiencing mental health problems is set to become one of the greatest public health challenges of this decade. If we are to rise to the challenge of reducing the prevalence of mental health problems, we need see a societal shift, we need to begin truly recognising good mental health in our children as a national asset to be strengthened and protected.
By drawing our attention to preventative approaches, we can build a society where illness is a rarer event. When 50% of mental health problems are established by the age of 14, we can't afford to go on with a system that doesn't proactively support children, instead waiting until mental health problems to develop before taking any action.
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