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Mental Health Gets the Royal Treatment
In a 2015 UK survey, a third of parents admitted they’d be embarrassed if their child were offered mental health counseling.
It’s a statistic that dismays a young mother of two known to the world as Princess Kate, and it’s one she’s determined to overcome as an advocate for children’s mental health. “No one would feel embarrassed by seeking help for a child if they broke their arm,” she pointed out in a 2015 public service announcement, “and we really should be equally ready to support a child coping with emotional difficulties.”
Charitable work such as this comes with the job in the life of the royals, but the UK’s Princess Kate, wife to Prince William, the future King of England, is embracing her commitment to improving mental health care and ending stigma with more than average intensity, not only acting as a patron to multiple mental health organizations but getting in the trenches and volunteering as well.
It’s the result, she says, of being a mother but also a celebrity who meets so many young people in her new public role who are suffering due to issues such as bullying, loss, dysfunctional family and social environments, neglect and trauma. In early 2016, she introduced a new series running on the UK’s Huffington Post called Young Lives Matter, which is designed to spark a conversation about children’s mental health. In it, she noted the distress she has witnessed:
“What I did not expect was to see that time and time again, the issues that led people to addiction and destructive decision-making seemed to almost always stem from unresolved childhood challenges. It became clear to me that many children — even those younger than five — have to deal with complex problems without the emotional resilience, language or confidence to ask for help. And it was also clear that with mental health problems still being such a taboo, many adults are often too afraid to ask for help for the children in their care. It is time for this to change.”
Some have also suggested that Princess Kate’s interest in the mental health of the young may stem in part from bullying she is said to have experienced while a day student at an elite boarding school during her teens. Though the stories are told by acquaintances rather than by the princess herself, it is perhaps meaningful that she and Prince William selected an anti-bullying nonprofit to be the charitable beneficiary in her 2011 wedding.
A Mental Health Crisis
Princess Kate’s work with mental health causes started in earnest in 2013 when she became the Royal Patron of Place2Be, a mental health charity that goes into UK schools and uses counseling, creative work and play to help children improve their emotional well-being.
She also speaks out on behalf of a variety of campaigns, such as Children’s Mental Health Week and World Mental Health Day.
Such efforts are needed more than ever as the UK struggles with what has been termed a mental health crisis due to growing numbers of people needing care but fewer resources to provide it. It’s a problem shared by the U.S., where statistics show 1 in 5 adults will experience a mental illness in any given year and 1 in 5 youth age 13-18 will experience a severe mental disorder at some point in their life, but where many struggle to find and afford care. And even when care is available, many still can’t bring themselves to admit it’s needed.
In the latest campaign, Princess Kate was joined by her husband and her brother-in-law, Prince Harry, to get out the word about Heads Together, a new partnership between The Royal Foundation and several mental health nonprofits that takes direct aim at stigma. A palace spokesman characterized the effort to ABC News as the biggest single charitable project that the trio, who often team up, has undertaken together.
Each of the three royals is spearheading a different facet of the campaign, with Princess Kate concentrating on youth mental health, Prince William focusing on bullying, cyberbullying and suicide among young men, and Prince Harry, a military veteran, speaking up about mental health issues among those who have served in the armed forces.
In a public service announcement, the three pop on blue Heads Together headbands and share encouraging words — and an undeniably charming dose of photogenic appeal.
“Mental health,” Princess Kate reminds viewers, “is just as important as physical health.”