17/02/2016 04:00 GMT | Updated 16/02/2017 05:12 GMT

I Was Nine When My Nana Died - No Child Should Struggle Alone


I was nine years old when my nana passed away.

It was my first experience of loss and grief.

I had been extremely close to my dad's mother and have many fond memories of the times we spent together.

She passed away suddenly on a Sunday afternoon and I remember being told the news that evening by my mum. I buried my head in her lap and cried for some time.

The next day I went to school as normal. But I remember feeling anything but normal as we drove there that morning.

My memory of this time is very vivid. I can recall arriving in the playground and going straight into a corner where I sobbed alone until the bell rang to call us in.

The other children in the playground quickly turned away whenever they caught a glimpse of me.

Finally the bell went and I walked to my classroom, trying to contain the tears. But as I soon as I caught a glimpse of my form tutor Mrs Clare sitting at her desk I could no longer hold it in.

I can still feel the sense of shame and embarrassment as my fellow classmates shuffled into the classroom and sat at their desks, watching me cry.

Mrs Clare put her arms around me and asked me what was wrong but it took a long time to form the words I needed to tell her. It was the first time I had told anyone that my nana had passed away and it hurt deeply to say those words.

She comforted me and calmed me down and eventually I took my seat.

The rest of the day and indeed the next week then passed as it does for a typical nine-year-old in school.

But inside I carried a weight of grief that lasted for a long time after but which I felt unable to talk to anyone about.

Looking back today, it breaks my heart that any child should go through something like this alone.

When I was 17 my mum's mother passed away and the support I received was different. I was able to share my grief with others, although it remained difficult. The shame of crying in front of people and the embarrassment of talking to others about how I was feeling was still very prominent. But at least I didn't have to deal with the loss alone.

I think we underestimate our children. Their minds may not be fully developed but their emotions and feelings are often in tune with us adults.

This is why mental health education in schools is so important.

At the end of last year, I went to talk to a group of 10 and 11 year olds about their wellbeing.

Before the talk I saw them running, laughing and playing with each other without a care in the world it seemed.

But as I started to talk to them about their thoughts and feelings I saw them begin to change.

Their fearful thoughts and vulnerable feelings soon become apparent. I saw shame in some of their eyes. A shame I recognised myself when I was that age and struggling with my nana's death.

"We're scared of what people will think of us," one boy replied when I asked the group if they could talk to others about their thoughts and feelings.

I know that we don't like to think of our children as being vulnerable or dealing with difficult emotions but the reality is that inevitably some children will have these experiences.

And since children spend most of their lives in the classroom, it should be here that they feel able to express themselves without inhibition, as well as at home.

There's always been a focus on children's physical health in terms of tackling issues such as obesity, but it is now the moment for that focus to include children's mental health too.

From a young age we are taught about everything from how to cross the road safely to our seven times table, but nothing about taking care of the minds that we use to learn and process everything with.

I often wonder how different my life would have been if I had learnt to talk about troublesome thoughts and feelings from an early age, and that such thoughts and feelings are nothing to be ashamed of.

I believe there would have been a lot less struggling; a struggle no child has to face if we finally begin to truly value their mental health.

Young Minds Matter is a new series designed to lead the conversation with children about mental and emotional health, so youngsters feel loved, valued and understood. Launched with Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Cambridge, as guest editor, we will discuss problems, causes and most importantly solutions to the stigma surrounding the UK's mental health crisis among children. To blog on the site as part of Young Minds Matter email