It was powerful to hear Princes William and Harry speaking out about how the death of their mother, when they were 15 and 12, has affected them. Among other things, the princes in the film discussed Princess Diana's fondness for laughter and fun, and how they have sought to keep her memory alive.
Children can be particularly vulnerable following the loss of someone close to them and between 4 and 7% of children experience a parental death before the age of 16. This can cause real issues for young people such as problems with friendships, as friends just don’t know what to say, to more damaging effects such as declining academic performance, regressive behaviours and sometimes even substance misuse.
Although Harry only sought therapy as an adult when it all got too much for him, his admission earlier this year of how he ‘shut down his emotions’ is a common experience for many bereaved children. Reluctant to share their worries with family or friends, some don’t want to upset family members who are grieving themselves, or see not showing their grief as a way of protecting their surviving parent.
Counselling in schools can provide vital help to children as they go through the painful process of bereavement. BACP has long been campaigning for universal access to a school-based counsellor for all secondary schools across the UK.
Currently, only Wales and Northern Ireland have nationwide provision of these services, while young people in England and Scotland are subject to a postcode lottery of access to support.
Dr Andrew Reeves, Chair of BACP, said: “As children spend a significant amount of time in school, schools have the potential to be a safe haven - offering an effective access point to mental health support for bereavement, as well as mental health problems such as depression.
“In Wales, bereavement was in the top six reasons for children and young people referred on to counselling services; with six per cent of males and five per cent of females; 1,079 children in total (Welsh Government, 2016) having bereavement as their primary presenting issue.
“There are clear benefits of school-based counselling as an early intervention in reducing psychological distress and we will continue to campaign to ensure all our children and young people across the UK have equal access to much needed and proven emotional help and support.”
The death of a parent, as in the case of William and Harry, often has the effect of forcing children to grow up overnight. However, the Princes show a positive outcome often found in bereaved young people; a wisdom and maturity beyond their years and a natural empathy for others in distress.
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