When the Duchess of Cambridge spoke openly Thursday about the loneliness of being a young mother, she joined her husband and her brother-in-law in having candid, open conversations about mental health.
Princess Kate made her comments at the opening of new technical school in London where curriculum will include a focus on emotional health. She was speaking to two young women who were creating an app for new moms to share their experiences and feelings about parenthood. Kate commended them for recognizing how important it is to seek support.
“It is lonely at times and you do feel quite isolated, but actually so many other mothers are going through exactly what you are going through,” she told them. “It is being brave enough, like you obviously were, to reach out to those around you.”
Together, the royal trio have made mental-health awareness their cause, spearheading their “Heads Together” campaign to shift the stigmas that have long made people reluctant to seek treatment.
And this week they significantly advanced that conversation by showing they were unashamed to speak about their vulnerabilities.
It began earlier this week with Prince Harry, who told the Daily Telegraph that after years of suppressing his grief over the death of his mother, Princess Diana, he finally sought counseling about three years ago when his brother, William, told him he needed to deal with it.
“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,” Harry said, “has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life but my work as well.”
After starting therapy, Harry said that “all of this grief came to the forefront,” but it was only after he began sharing how he was feeling with friends that he noticed they started to open up to him as well.
In recent years, with the help of social media, there has been a sort of “coming out” about mental illness as more and more people find that sharing their conditions, like depression or bipolar disorder, is met not with scorn but with understanding. In the United States, at least 1 in 5 people has a diagnosable mental-health condition in a given year.
Yet more than 50 percent of those with a mental illness do not seek treatment. There are serious issues with accessibility to care that create major roadblocks and frustrations that require public policy fixes, but there is also the persisting issue that people are afraid to appear weak to loved ones and colleagues, so they bury their feelings.
The British are famously stoic, and the royal family exceedingly private. So while many celebrities, including Kristen Bell, the late Carrie Fisher and Bruce Springsteen have publicly shared their experiences with mental health, it is symbolically important that Harry, William and Kate are having these conversations.
“I think that in just 25 minutes he has achieved more good than I have in 25 years,” Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, wrote in an op-ed after Harry's interview. “He's an incredibly powerful role model and has a reach that we can only dream of.”
After Harry opened up about his history, his brother William said the British reputation for being tough in the face of adversity should not come at the expense of health. In a piece published in the Guardian about why the royals' open dialogue matters, writer Alex Renton said, “It's pretty revolutionary to have one of the titular heads of a nation say it's not always a good thing and that speaking up might be better.”
While Kate and Harry shared an intimate part of their lives, William facilitated a conversation this week with another powerful public persona about the importance of talking about mental health.
In a FaceTime chat with Lady Gaga, William spoke to the pop star about her post-traumatic stress disorder, which she wrote about in an open letter in December. She said that she was very nervous to open up about her struggles but that “the best thing that could come out of my mental illness was to share it with other people.”
“Waking up every day and feeling sad and going onstage is something that is very hard to describe. There's a lot of shame attached to mental illness. You feel like something's wrong with you,” she told William. She said she looked around her and thought she should be happy. “But you can't help it if in the morning when you wake up you are so tired, you are so sad, you are so full of anxiety and the shakes that you can barely think. But it was like saying, ‘This is a part of me, and that's okay.’”
William said that what he's learned since beginning his campaign for mental-health awareness is that it's so important to start the conversation, to speak to family and friends about what you're feeling just as someone would with a physical ailment.
And he's observed that when you do, “you won't be judged.”
“It's time everyone speaks up,” he said, “and really feels really normal about mental health.”