Royals speak out against mental health stigma

A run for their money: Heads Together is the London Marathon’s charity of the year. © PA

William, Kate and Harry believe we have reached a “tipping point” in our views on mental health. They are urging people to speak honestly about their problems. But is this enough?

Ruby Wax sits beside her husband on their couch. “I’m only relieved,” she tells him emotionally, “when I’m with other people that have mental illness.”

The comedienne is one of a handful of celebrities who have lent their voices to Heads Together. Led by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, the campaign aims to get the public talking about mental health. In a new series of short videos, people both famous and ordinary relate their personal problems to a loved one.

They do not hold back. In one video, model Adwoa Aboah tries to describe her crippling depression to her mother. In another, writer Alastair Campbell tells his wife that her reactions to his depression annoy him. Yet each participant admits that talking about their issues was a crucial step toward getting help.

The royals are not new to this field. William attended to suicides as an air ambulance pilot. In the army, Harry saw fellow servicemen succumb to post-traumatic stress disorder. Kate is a patron of mental health charities including Place2Be and Action on Addiction. “Too often,” they observe, “people feel afraid to admit that they are struggling with their mental health.”

The videos coincide with the largest ever survey of the British public’s attitude to mental health, published by YouGov. It paints a mixed picture. On the one hand, a quarter of Britons have spoken to others about their own mental health; 80% of them have found the conversations helpful. However, only a tiny proportion have brought their issues up at work or with counsellors.

What Heads Together does not address is the barriers to mental health treatment that persist in society. According to a recent analysis, 40% of mental health trusts in the country saw their income fall in 2015–16. For every citizen affected by mental illness, £8 is spent on research — 22 times less than for cancer. This is despite the government’s commitment to treat mental and physical health equally.

In the face of such obstacles, can the royals change much?

Open minds

Of course, say some. Talking openly about these things is the only way to get rid of the stigma of mental health. These videos show that mental issues can strike anyone — male or female, young or old, famous or not. We can only tackle a universal problem by acting together; credit to Will, Kate and Harry for leading the way.

They are doing great work, reply others. But the focus on personal stories risks distracting us from the deep structural problems with mental health treatment. Talking about your issues with friends can only get you so far if you cannot follow it up with specialized treatment. Here’s hoping the next campaign addresses this, too.

You Decide

  1. If you felt you had a mental health problem, who would you speak to first? Why?
  2. What could your government do to improve access to mental health treatment?

Activities

  1. As a class, brainstorm a list of everything that you think counts as a mental health problem.
  2. Watch Heads Together’s videos in Become An Expert. In groups of three, produce a video of your own, in which you interview someone you know who has experienced mental health problems.

Some People Say...

“Mental health is the final taboo.”

— Adam Ant

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Mental health problems are common. Just how common depends on who you ask and how you define the term. According to 2016 government figures, 26% of English adults have received a diagnosis at some point, with depression being the most common.
What do we not know?
Why it affects some and not others. If Heads Together’s videos show anything, it is that mental health problems can befall anyone — even those who seem to lead perfect lives.
What do people believe?
Experts think that mental health is determined by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, such as loneliness, stress or childhood abuse. In some cases, there is a direct physical cause, such as trauma to the head. These factors interact in hugely complex ways that are not yet fully understood.

Word Watch

Heads Together
The campaign brings together the work of eight separate mental health charities.
Alastair Campbell
After experiencing a psychotic breakdown, Campbell recovered and went on to a successful career in politics.
Harry
The prince took a two-day training course on how to help veterans with mental health issues.
Kate
The Duchess of Cambridge is said to be especially interested in the effects of mental health on family life.
Tiny proportion
For example, only 3% of the 5,000 people surveyed said they had approached someone from a local support organization.
Recent analysis
By the King’s Fund, a think tank specialising in health policy.
£8
According to a 2016 report by mental health charity MQ.
Equally
The principle that the state should give mental and physical health the same amount of attention is called “parity of esteem”. It has been promised by recent governments in both the UK and the USA, although analysts disagree on the extent to which it has been achieved. One issue is that it is a very difficult thing to measure. See Full Fact’s article in Become An Expert.

Subjects

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