Prince Harry was right; it’s important to talk about grief

When Prince Harry said he regretted not talking about this mother's death sooner, he garnered international headlines and plaudits from across the medical and mental health professions.

Prince Harry was just 12 years old when his mother died in a car crash. He told guests at a mental health charity event he wished he had spoken out about the tragedy sooner, expressing regret over not articulating the impact of losing his mother. He said he only began opening up publicly about the loss three years ago.

"Everything can be OK, but I really regret not talking about it earlier," he said.

"For the first 28 years of my life, I never talked about it," the 31-year royal said while speaking to former British soccer star Rio Ferdinand, who lost his wife last year. Ferdinand had sought out advice on how to speak to his children about their grief.

Julia Cole, a senior psychotherapist at Priory’s Wellbeing Centre in The Avenue, Southampton, said: "Harry said it was difficult to speak out, but many people disguise - or conceal - their feelings following a bereavement, or, say, the end of a relationship or job problems. Many people still find it hard to tell others what they are genuinely feeling about these issues."

So why is it always good to talk?

Julia said: "Saying what you are feeling is important because it allows you to engage with what you really feel. I often suggest that people who come to counselling start a series of sentences with 'I feel ...'. Many people are amazed at what they really do feel. They thought they were angry, but in fact they are sad or confused, for instance."

She added: "In order to process our emotions, we need to look at the effect on us. Crushing emotions can lead to stress-related illnesses, such as headaches, sleeplessness or tiredness. Once you can say what you are feeling, many of these effects lessen."

Choosing who you talk to can be difficult, but is hugely important.

"Talking to a caring friend or partner can allow you to be comforted. Thoughtful words or being shown affection by touch can help to lower your heart rate and the level of stress related chemicals in the body. Talking can improve a sense of connection to someone who will listen. In turn, this enables you to feel calm and less tense.

"Counselling can give you time to process your feelings in a non-judgemental environment with a therapist who is willing to spend sessions listening to emotions you may never have told anyone before. Feeling accepted by the therapist can often give you the courage to make the changes you long for and to tell others how you feel.

"I often think of the quote from Macbeth: 'Give sorrow words: for the grief that does not speak knits up the o'er wrought heart, and bids it break.'"

Should bereavement leave be longer?

Her comments come as Dr Judith Mohring said paid bereavement leave should be longer, and, similar to parental leave, taken flexibly throughout the first 18 months following a death, "as people's grief expresses itself in different ways at different times".

Dr Mohring, a Priory Wellbeing Centre consultant psychiatrist at Fenchurch Wellbeing Centre, said that while the length of bereavement leave had to be left to employers, it was typically too short a period, and she had seen a number of patients whose problems had followed the death of a loved one.

"In general we expect grief to be short lived and focused around the funeral," she said, "but grief can take months to be expressed and worked through.

"Grief is a form of psychological work, it requires effort and is an active process of remembering and feeling. For many of us the death of a parent is the first time we have to go through this process and we have no guide to show us the way."

She added that while many of her patients suffered workplace stress issues, the number citing bereavement as an issue had been consistently high.

One city worker, who took six days paid compassionate leave after the death of his father, said: "The trouble is that you tend to bottle up your emotions when you are arranging the funeral and keeping your family together, but it is a month or so after when your emotions bubble up and that is when you need an understanding boss and systems to support you, and some kind of techniques you can try to use to help you deal with feelings of loss."

There is currently no legal requirement for employers to provide paid leave to those in mourning.

Dr Mohring said: "Often people take only a few days off work and then 'pull themselves together' and get back into the office.

"Months later they realise all is not well. Sometimes people drink to cope with their feelings. Work can be a comfort blanket because the structure and familiarity of a job protects us from the fact that we have lost someone significant. But when work performance drops because of low mood or poor concentration, that’s when problems multiply."

Workers have a right to "reasonable" time off after an "emergency involving a dependant".

Often this is used to arrange or attend funerals.

But the length and pay status of the time off depends on the employee's contract and discretion of the employer. Typically, bereavement leave is about three to five days. Grieving workers would then have to eat into their holiday allocation or get signed off sick.

National Bereavement Study

A national study of bereavement suggested that it takes two years, one month and four days on average for those who have lost someone close to them to even start feeling better.

It claimed that for men it takes one year, nine months and 16 days for the initial pain of grief to pass compared with two years, three months and 28 days for women. It has often been assumed that men get over bereavement more quickly than women, based largely on anecdotal evidence that men forge new partnerships or remarry more often than women after being widowed.

It was conducted among 2,000 people who had lost a loved one by Sue Ryder, the charity that provides social care for those at the end of life.