For months now, Great Britain’s Prince Harry has joined his brother, William, and sister-in-law, Kate, in an effort to change the conversation about mental health. Through their “Heads Together” campaign, the young royals have worked hard in a short period of time to erase the stigma surrounding mental health issues and to support those in need of care and services.
But the conversation turned personal this past weekend when Harry reflected on his own life and struggles — specifically in how he has, or hasn’t ever really dealt with the death of his mother, Princess Diana.
“I really regret not talking about it,” Prince Harry told the BBC. “For the first 28 years of my life, I never talked about it.”
Princess Diana — as most of the world knows too well — died in a car crash in Paris in 1997. Her younger son, Prince Harry, was just 12 years old at the time; Prince William was just 15. The world ached for the family as it suffered through this tremendous tragedy.
“It is OK to suffer,” said Prince Harry, also to the BBC. “But as long as you talk about it, it is not a weakness. Weakness is having a problem and not recognizing it and not solving that problem.”
Mental health advocates in the U.S. say the awareness created by the royal family is having and will absolutely have a long-term impact. But many people have championed this important cause for quite some time, they note. And the real change we’re seeing now — in terms of less stigma with mental health issues — is the result of conversation by some very brave people over the last five to seven years especially.
“From the age of 13 to 14 years through old age, some 20 percent of the population at any given time may be dealing with symptoms of what could be a mental health disorder,” said Chris Bouneff, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in Oregon.
[lz_bulleted_list title=”Top Mental Health Issues in U.S.” source=”http://www.nami.org”]Anxiety disorders: 42 million|Major depression: 16 million|Bipolar disorder: 6.1 million|Schizophrenia: 2.4 million[/lz_bulleted_list]
“This is something that affects a wide swath of our communities. We just have never talked about it. Instead of developing systems, doing research, reaching out for help, [in the past] we swept everything under the rug. What you’re seeing is this snowballing effect of people becoming more comfortable in recent years, expressing publicly the events that have happened to them, the symptoms they’ve endured, the disorders they’ve coped with. Society is realizing this is a fairly common occurrence,” Bouneff told LifeZette.
But we all respond differently to events. Some people are extremely resilient after trauma and never need to talk about it. They are able to cope and move on; if there is any effect, it’s not readily apparent, said Bouneff. Others, whether they talk about it or not, may be impacted by a simple event for a large portion of their life.
“There’s still a ton we don’t know,” he said. “We don’t fully appreciate how trauma may impact us. With mental health care, we’re in the very early stages of research,” said Bouneff.
He hopes increased awareness means people will reach out sooner for help. “And sadly enough, in many instances, help is still not available. It creates pressure on all of our health care systems, our social service systems, and our school systems — to respond to the demand for that need.”
Bouneff said there is a severe shortage of mental health care providers. And many people often don’t feel they can afford the care — but in terms of fixing that part of the system, conversations are finally occurring.
“These are interesting times. The landscape has changed tremendously. But there’s still a lot [of hard work] to do. Just because any one person comes out and says they’ve endured something, it doesn’t change the world,” said Bouneff.