• The NHS does not provide services for the 100 children a day to lose a parent
  • Children who lose a parent are at a greater risk of suicide in adolescence 
  • Widows or widowers often receive professional help and counselling with grief
  • Children are told to ‘get over it’ and ‘accept’ their parent’s untimely death  

Stephen Adams for The Mail on Sunday



The NHS is failing to protect the mental health of children who suffer the tragic loss of a parent, charities are claiming – days after Princes Harry and William spoke of the devastating effect their mother’s death had on them.

Around 100 children suffer the loss of a parent every day in Britain – but experts say there are almost no NHS services to help them. 

The warnings come as a report in the British Medical Journal shows that children who experience a death in the family have a ‘substantially increased risk of suicide in adolescence and young adulthood’. 

Young children who lose a parent are at greater risk of suicide a BMJ report has found

While surviving widows or widowers receive professional counselling, children are told to ‘go home and get on with life’, said Shelley Gilbert, founder of the charity Grief Encounter.

‘There’s simply no Government-funded specialist service for children who have suffered the death of a parent. Instead, we wait until things have gone wrong,’ she said. ‘Children are told to get over it, get on with life and “accept” a parent’s death. 

But the result is that a large number of children are left in the situation that Prince Harry talked about so powerfully.

‘They are forced to suppress their emotions, but more often than not that results in problems emerging later in life.’

Dr Gilbert, who herself lost both parents in childhood, said: ‘Some bereaved children become depressed or anxious teenagers or young adults. Some become suicidal. 

For others, the fear, anxiety and loss they feel leads to destructive behaviour and young offending.’ She said hospitals with bereavement officers trained to help children were ‘few and far between’.

The Princes were famously made to go hunting hours after they learnt of their mother’s death. Dr Gilbert said the attitude that children would get over it if they simply continued their normal lives still persisted – and was reflected in the lack of state-funded counselling services.

Both Prince William and Prince Harry spoke of the impact of losing their mother last week

She said: ‘We know how to help these children, but there are no publicly funded organisations offering this help. So we force children to carry their pain around, unnecessarily, sometimes for their whole lives.’

A spokesman for fellow charity Winston’s Wish said: ‘In general, there’s nothing specific for children in terms of bereavement counselling, so it largely falls on the voluntary sector.’

The BMJ study, which followed almost 550,000 Swedish children born between 1987 and 1991, found suicide rates in those who had seen a death in their immediate family were twice as high as normal. 

Some areas of the UK, such as Hertfordshire, do have dedicated bereavement services for children, according to NHS England. A spokesman said: ‘We recognise that losing a parent causes a child or young person enormous difficulty.

‘Anyone working with a child or young person who is bereaved should be aware of the impact this can cause and what to do, and there are useful resources available that can help. 

Those children and young people with more complex problems may need further support from mental health services.’

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