Mental health stigma: Why the British Royal family dropped the stiff upper lip
Around 450 million people worldwide suffer from mental ill-health or neurological disorders and approximately one-quarter of the global population will be affected by them at some point during their lives. Yet the stigma that still persists means many people avoid talking about them.
This attitude is beginning to shift, even in the unlikeliest places. While the “stiff upper lip” – the idea that you should suppress your emotions – may be as British as fish and chips, the younger generation of the Royal family are taking a different approach.
Putting themselves firmly at the vanguard of the global conversation about mental health are the Duke of Cambridge, Prince William (second in line to the British throne) and his brother Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex.
The Duke of Cambridge is attending Davos in 2019 to talk about mental health. He will also be discussing Mental Health at Work, an initiative designed to improve emotional and mental wellbeing in the workplace.
It is operated in conjunction with the mental health charity Mind, which found in a recent survey that 48% of British workers have experienced a mental health problem at work. However, only half of them had talked to their employer. The initiative wants to change this, and offers resources on everything from coping with stress to getting better quality sleep.
Putting their heads together
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, cheer on runnersImage: REUTERS/Matt Dunham/Pool
Princes William and Harry have been outspoken about mental health, sharing some of their own struggles as part of this commitment to battle the stigma and silence surrounding the topic.
Referring to his time as an air ambulance pilot, Prince William admitted his own mental health had been affected by things he experienced at work.
“I worked several times on very traumatic jobs involving children, and after I had my own children I think the relation between the job and the personal life was what really took me over the edge, and I started feeling things that I have never felt before, and I got very sad and very down about this particular family,” he told the audience at the This Can Happen workplace mental health event in November 2018.
When Prince Harry spoke about the impact of the death in 1997 of his mother Princess Diana, he detailed the impact grief had on his mental health.
“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,” he told the UK’s Telegraph newspaper.
He added: “I have probably been very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions when all sorts of grief and sort of lies and misconceptions and everything are coming to you from every angle.”
The two princes, along with Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, are among the driving forces behind the Heads Together Initiative to tackle mental health stigma and raise funds for support services.