Prince Harry makes an address during the Invictus Games Symposium, another cause close to his heart (DoD News photo by EJ Hersom)
A leading bereavement support charity has said Prince Harry has done an “enormous favour” to people who have lost a loved one, in the wake of a candid interview about grieving his mother’s death.
The Prince, who together with the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall are working hard to raise awareness of mental health issues through their campaign Heads Together, revealed in a searingly honest interview that he had bottled up his emotions after Princess Diana’s death and had come close to breaking point in his late twenties.
Prince Harry said that his supportive brother William had encouraged him to seek counselling four years ago, while Prince William himself admitted that almost 20 years on from their mother’s death, he still lived with the shock. He said: “People go, ‘Shock can’t last that long.’ But it does.”
In a podcast interview with Bryony Gordon for the Telegraph Prince Harry said: “I can safely say that losing my mum at the age of 12, and therefore shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years, has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life but my work as well.”
Toby Scott of dying, death and bereavement charity Dying Matters said: “By speaking openly and honestly, Prince Harry has done everyone an enormous favour, making the topic easier to talk about. Grief is a long-lasting emotion that comes and goes in waves and everyone benefits from someone to talk to.”
Other bereavement charities were also quick to welcome the princes’ frank conversations surrounding grief and seeking help.
The Good Grief Trust's Linda Magistris tweeted: “Thank you #PrinceWilliam for talking about the shock you feel after 20 yrs.”
Widowed and Young tweeted: “It’s good to see Prince Harry open up about challenges of coming to terms with grief.”
Prince Harry and the Duke of Cornwall spoke out about their grief just weeks after footballer Rio Ferdinand, who is among the high-profile supporters of Heads Together, explored his own journey through bereavement in BBC documentary Being Mum and Dad.
“Rio, too, has had a really positive impact with his honesty and openness talking about how hard it is to deal with losing someone,” says Toby.
Last year, at a Heads Together event attended by sports personalities including Rio, Prince Harry said famous names were no less vulnerable and had a part to play in making mental health issues, including bereavement, a part of everyday conversation. He said: “Once you’ve got people in public life coming forward and talking about it, it should open the way for everyone else to do it… You can be as tough as you like on the exterior, but inside there’s all sort of emotions going on.”
Sacha Richardson, director of Family Services at bereavement charity Winston’s Wish, says: “Having public figures such as Prince Harry and Prince William talking about grief and mental health issues can only be positive. Their comments will influence a number of people, including a lot of men, and will encourage them to seek the support that they need.”
Winston’s Wish was established in 1992 to support children, young people and their families after the death of a parent or sibling.
“Unresolved grief can have lasting mental and physical effects on children and young people, so it is important for us as a society to provide an environment that encourages them to talk about grief and other painful feelings,” says Sacha.
“Ongoing conversations over time with children and young people enable them to make sense of their loss and their feelings about it. Giving children the appropriate support and information helps them to lead full and flourishing lives, even after the most difficult of losses.
“There is a lot of support available for young people and their families following bereavement. As well as services like our Freephone National Helpline (08088 020 021), the Childhood Bereavement Network has a directory of services available in your area where you can get the support that you need.”
Prince Harry has also struck a chord with adults who lost a parent in childhood, for whom support wasn’t available at the time.
Among them, Rosie, whose mother’s suicide almost 50 years ago was not spoken about during her childhood, said the grief and complicated post-traumatic stress she suffered is something she is still working through. She posted on Facebook: “It’s good to hear Harry talk about his experience so honestly.”
“Prince Harry’s comments will have brought up a lot of feelings of unresolved grief for adults who did not get bereavement support as children and there is support available to them,” says Sacha. “Cruse Bereavement Care and some local services are available for anyone in this situation.”
“I think there’s lots of help out there, including charities that deal with specific types of grief,” agrees Toby.
“There’s also a growing recognition about stuff that all of us can do to support friends, colleagues and neighbours who have been bereaved. It could be telling a friend, ‘If you want to sit down and talk according to your own agenda, then I’m happy to listen’.
“That support we can give to friends, colleagues and neighbours can be as important as the professional services.”
There are lots of bereavement support and grief counselling organisations in the UK.