Mental health experts have praised Prince Harry for revealing that he sought counselling after 20 years of bottling up his grief over his mother’s death – and for speaking out so honestly about it. The prince said he had suppressed his emotions after losing his mother, Princess Diana, when he was 12. He took up boxing to help cope with feelings of aggression before finally seeking counselling.
“I have probably been very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions, when all sorts of grief and all sorts of lies and misconceptions and everything are coming to you from every angle,” he said in an interview with the Telegraph.
Sir Simon Wessely, the president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said the prince had achieved more in terms of communicating mental health issues in a 25-minute interview than Wessely had in a 25-year career.
“He has a reach across the world that people like me can only dream of – he will have communicated in a way that I have been working all my life to achieve,” he said.
Wessely said grief – “though raw, painful and uncomfortable” – should not be viewed as a mental health problem and, for some, coping with it in silence could be the right approach. “It’s not rocket science, and we should be wary of applying an orthodox approach to the individual experience of grief,” he said. “However, there are times when prolonged grief can become a barrier, preventing us from moving on in life, and then it can become a problem which may perhaps need help.”
Marjorie Wallace, founder of the mental health charity Sane, said: “It’s done more good than many, many campaigns. It’s given a message of hope that feelings left for too long can become malignant – but that it is never too late to seek help.”
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said the interview would have a huge impact. “It’s inspiring to see Prince Harry speaking out about his experiences. It shows how far we have come in changing public attitudes to mental health that someone so high-profile can open up about something so difficult and personal,” he said.
“We know that this will have a huge impact on people who are still struggling in silence with their mental health – every time someone in the public eye speaks up, we know that it encourages ordinary members of the public to do the same.
“Prince Harry speaking so candidly is a true turning point that shows that as a society we must no longer adopt a ‘stiff upper lip’ attitude and that we need to talk openly about mental health, something that affects us all directly.”
Sue Baker, director of the Time to Change mental health charity, said research showed that speaking out helps to overturn stigma. “Prince Harry sharing his experiences of mental health issues and the counselling he sought as a result of losing his mother will have helped change attitudes, not just at home but also overseas. It was a dream of mine 20 years ago that we’d see the royal family join sportspeople, music stars, politicians and business leaders as well as everyday people in sharing their mental health experiences in all sorts of communities,” she said.
The prince was also praised by the prime minister for his candour. Theresa May said his decision to speak out would help “smash the stigma around mental health”. She added: “Mental health problems affect people of all ages and all backgrounds. The bravery of those in public positions who speak out about their experiences helps smash the stigma around mental health and will help thousands of people to realise they are not alone.
“If we are to tackle this injustice, we must forge a new approach that recognises our responsibility to each other, and make mental illness an everyday concern for all of us and in every one of our institutions.”
A spokesman for the Department of Health said the government would publish a green paper on children and mental health later this year. “We have already announced plans for every secondary school in the country to be offered mental health first aid training,” he said. “We trust teachers to deliver assessment in a sensible manner that will not create stress among children.
“We have announced we will be developing a new green paper on children and young people’s mental health to be published later in the year, with new proposals for both improving services and increasing focus on preventative activity.”
On Twitter there was admiration for the prince for breaking the stigma over speaking about mental health and bereavement. Chuka Umunna, the former Labour shadow cabinet member, tweeted:
1/2 Big big respect to Prince Harry for opening up about his mental health and grief https://t.co/zXE3mZmyPm— Chuka Umunna (@ChukaUmunna) April 17, 2017
2/2 Losing a parent so young is v.tough. I lost my Dad at 13 -doing so in the public eye wld have been harder still https://t.co/zXE3mZmyPm— Chuka Umunna (@ChukaUmunna) April 17, 2017
Bryony Gordon, who interviewed the prince, told the BBC: “To hear someone of his profile talking so candidly about the stuff in his head, it’s a watershed moment. It’s so important.”
Gordon, who herself has had mental health problems, said if when she first became ill aged 12, a member of “the most famous family in the world” had spoken about it, the ensuing decades might have been very different.
“He has taken something massively negative and he’s turning it into a positive,” she said.