The British royals, famous for their stiff upper lip, might be well known for steering clear of discussions regarding taboo subjects, but the family’s younger generation is doing their best to use their influence to kick-start important conversations.
Through their Heads Together initiative, Princes William and Harry and the Duchess of Cambridge have spurred a mental health awareness drive in the UK. And their work so far is really quite impressive.
To celebrate World Mental Health Day 2017, here are all the things the monarchy are doing to support the health issue no one likes to talk about.
Kate, William and Harry launched Heads Together in May 2016. Aiming to remove the stigma surrounding mental health, the initiative works with YoungMinds and seven other charities.
The trio have had a number of successes so far. They encouraged ten celebrities (including model Adwoa Aboah, Professor Green and Freddie Flintoff) to open up about their problems, showing that a simple conversation can really change things.
Heads Together was named the official 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon Charity, raising its profile even more. The three royals worked alongside ten runners with mental illnesses who managed to complete the marathon. William, Kate and Harry were even spotted getting involved in a bit of training themselves.
It turns out that all their work has really helped step up the mental health conversation in the UK. A recent YouGov poll surveyed 14,000 people to find that there had been an increased awareness of mental health between February and May this year following the Heads Together campaign.
1.5 million more people were willing to talk about the topic with 68% of people now saying they would speak to a family member about a mental health issue.
“At the beginning, we were trying to understand why at home people weren’t sharing some of their problems. If we’ve at least made a big impression there we can work on the wider societal aspects,” said Prince William. “But I think it all has to start at home. If you can’t even have a conversation with your loved ones, there’s no way you’re going to go to HR at work.”
The trio’s most recent success will see a £2 million digital mental health scheme launch. The money, which will come from the Royal Foundation, will go towards a start-up for digital mental health innovation to give the public more access to help. This will include an instant text service for anyone in need.
Prince Harry has been a surprising advocate for mental health, earning the title of the most open royal.
Finally opening up about his feelings towards his mother’s death, the 33-year-old admitted that he “shut down all his emotions” for a long time after the tragic car accident which killed Princess Diana in 1997.
Harry said he sought counselling a decade after – thanks to the help of his older brother, Prince William.
“I have probably been very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions when all sorts of grief and lies and misconceptions and everything are coming to you from every angle,” he added, saying he was “a little nervous” about opening up about his own personal mental health.
“I want to encourage people to have that conversation because you will be surprised how much support you get and how many people literally are longing for you to come out.”
On Tuesday, Harry announced a brand new mental health strategy for the Armed Forces; somewhere where he spent a great portion of his life.
The Royal Foundation will work with the Ministry of Defence to offer special training, support and advice that can be shared across the entire forces as well as with army veterans.
Prince William too found the courage to talk about his childhood and the struggles he faced after losing his mother at the tender age of 15.
“The shock never leaves you,” he told GQ, adding that it has taken him 20 years to be able to speak about Diana’s death. “I still find it difficult now because at the time it was so raw. And also it is not like most people’s grief, because everyone else knows about it, everyone knows the story, everyone knows her.”
He also FaceTimed a rather surprising person for a candid mental health chat. In April, the 35-year-old royal was filmed talking to Lady Gaga about the singer’s post traumatic stress disorder.
“It’s time that everyone speaks up and really feels very normal about mental health,” William said to the star. “It’s the same as physical health. Just having a conversation with a friend or family member can really make such a difference.”
“It’s really important to have this conversation and know that you won’t be judged. It’s so important to break open that fear and that taboo which is only going to lead to more problems down the line.”
Duchess of Cambridge
The Duchess of Cambridge has been just as candid when it comes to mental health and being a mother.
In March, Kate attended a mental health engagement, giving a speech on child health and the mental wellbeing of new mothers.
In it, she spoke about her own problems with parenting, saying that becoming a parent “has been such a rewarding and wonderful experience” as well as a “huge challenge. Even for me, who has support at home that most mothers do not.”
“There is no rule book, no right or wrong. You just have to make it up and do the very best you can to care for your family. For many mothers, myself included, this can at times lead to a lack of confidence and feelings of ignorance. Sadly, for some mothers, this experience can be made so much harder due to challenges with our mental health.”
She also introduced an animated film about mental health in September. Created by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families (of which Kate is a patron), the Duchess reached out to children: “It helps us all to talk about our mental health and how to listen and help if one of our friends is finding things difficult.”
As she undergoes her third pregnancy, it’s likely that Kate will open up even more about her personal feelings.
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