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Harry’s honesty may give others courage to seek help

PUBLISHED: 13:04 25 April 2017

Campaigners say Prince Harry's decision to speak about his own experiences is important in helping others - particularly young men - seek help.
Photo: PA/thinkstockphotos.

Campaigners say Prince Harry's decision to speak about his own experiences is important in helping others - particularly young men - seek help. Photo: PA/thinkstockphotos.

Archant

Prince Harry’s brave admission that he came close to a breakdown after shutting down his emotions about the death of his mother, Princess Diana, have shone a powerful light on the stigma that still surrounds mental ill health. Sheena Grant reports on why his decision to speak out may make asking for support feel like a less terrifying step for others.

Prince Harry says he needed help to process his emotions over the death of his mother. 
Photo: Kensington Palace/PA Prince Harry says he needed help to process his emotions over the death of his mother. Photo: Kensington Palace/PA

Talking about your feelings, particularly if you’re struggling, is not always an easy thing to do.

Those who work in mental health know that and, all too often, they see the devastating conseqences it can cause.

That’s particularly true when it comes to young men.

Suicide is the single biggest killer of men aged under 45 in the UK, with 76% of all suicides in 2014 being men,

Prince Harry, pictured with his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1995. Harry has said he regrets not opening up sooner about how his mother's death affected him.
Photo: Martin Keene/PA Wire Prince Harry, pictured with his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1995. Harry has said he regrets not opening up sooner about how his mother's death affected him. Photo: Martin Keene/PA Wire

It’s a shocking statistic, says Suffolk Mind chief executive Sue Gray.

Men are thought to be particularly vulnerable because it can be culturally harder for them to seek help. They may feel pressure to be a ‘winner’, to look strong and to appear in control of themselves.

That’s why Prince Harry’s decision speak up about his own experiences and admit he needed help to process the pent-up grief he suffered over the death of his mother when he was just 12 is so powerful. Harry has joined forces with his brother and sister-in-law, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, to spearhead the Heads Together campaign, a partnership with several charities, to end the stigma around mental health.

Prince William reinforced Harry’s message by saying he and Catherine will raise their children to be relaxed about talking about their emotions. “There may be a time and a place for the ‘stiff upper lip’ but not at the expense of your health,” said William.

“Prince Harry’s decision to speak out is particularly important because he is a young man and we know young men often don’t ask for help and are particularly vulnerable to suicide,” says Sue. “It is important that people talk to someone they trust about how they are feeling and for someone like Harry to speak as he has done is really helpful.

“We’re very good about talking about good health physically but people are poor at knowing about what keeps them mentally well - things like staying connected with friends and family, being active, talking about your feelings and asking for help. If you take care of those needs you are more likely to be mentally well. Anyone dealing with stress will get ill if they don’t do something about it. All mental ill health starts with a ‘stresser’ of some sort. It may be childhood trauma or difficulties, work or a partner or relationship but finding someone to talk to is the first step to addressing it.

“If you are not sleeping or drinking, eating or smoking as some sort of numbing out behaviour that is a sign your system is saying you have to get help.”

Suffolk Mind is on a mission to make the county the “best place in the world” to talk about and take care of mental wellbeing. As part of that it has set up Friends of Suffolk Mind, a network of people who’ve promised to find out how important mental health is and how to look after it. The network is free to join and offers information and support for looking after your own mental health and helping your family and friends look after theirs.

To find out more visit www.suffolkmind.org.uk/

WHY IT’S GOOD TO TALK

One in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year, and according to a study published in The Lancet in 2013, mental health is one of the main causes of overall disease burden globally. In Britain, mixed anxiety and depression is the most commonly diagnosed mental health problem, affecting 7.8% of the population, and is believed to account for a fifth of lost work days.

But struggles can be hidden too - people might not take time off work, might be keeping up appearances on social media and, on the surface, appear relatively fine.

Things like denial, fear of judgement - or even just fear of what will happen if you start dropping some of those plates or open the floodgates, so to speak - can play a part. But there can also be uncertainty as to whether people ‘qualify’ for professional help, whether their problems are worthy of a doctor’s time, when there are other people much worse off.

NO PROBLEM TOO SMALL

Lucy Lyus, information manager at mental health charity Mind, is adamant that, just as everybody deserves good physical health, everybody deserves good mental health. “No problem is too small or unimportant. And it doesn’t matter whether you think you need a diagnosis or not, if you’re finding things are getting in the way of how you want to live your life and it’s been going on for a while, then it really is better to try and seek help, and not worry about putting on a brave face,” she says.

She acknowledges people can sometimes be disappointed with the outcome of plucking up the courage to talk to their GP; postcode lotteries and funding shortages mean sometimes waiting lists for talking therapies, including counselling, can be very long. This is something Mind is campaigning about, along with better training for GPs and practice nurses around handling conversations about mental health.

“We want to make sure there is choice for everyone, in terms of getting the treatment that’s right for them. So for everyone who builds up the courage to go to their GP, there are meaningful options available to them afterwards,” says Lucy. “Antidepressants can be fantastic for some people, but they’re not appropriate for everyone.”

FINDING THE WORDS

Acknowledging you need support is one thing, but getting through the GP surgery door and finding the words can be quite another. Mind’s ‘Find the Words’ tool - an online resource for both people visiting their doctor or nurse, as well as those working in GP practices and primary care commissioners - is designed to help with this very thing. “This is a campaign we’ve done to try and give people the tools to start the conversation with their GP, so lots of tips and advice on how to prepare for that first appointment, how to say what you want to say, and know your options afterwards,” explains Lucy.

And if talking to your GP really isn’t what you want to do, “talking to anyone is a really good thing to do”.

“That could be a friend, a colleague, a family member. Someone you trust, who you know will listen non-judgmentally, just so you’re not feeling like you’ve got to suffer in silence,” she says. “If you don’t have that sort of person in their immediate life, we find a lot of people find online support forums really useful, especially if you’re struggling to get out, or if you just don’t have that network. Mind’s ‘Elefriends’ online community’s has about 60,000 users now.”

BREAKING BARRIERS

The more we talk about our mental health, notes Lucy, the “more normal it becomes” - and that applies to each and every one of us. Because recognising your mental health needs is as important, relevant - and indeed normal - as recognising your physical health needs.

“We are finding that the stigma is lessening, attitudes are shifting and people are getting more accepting about it,” she adds, though there are still “some exceptions”.

“But fortunately, there are people out there who are doing wonderful work to show that it is quite normal.

“We all have mental health,” says Lucy, “so we need to remember that having a mental health problem is very common. We all need support from time to time.”

■ Want some help finding the words to talk about your own mental health? Visit www.mind.org.uk/findthewords

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