Heritage

All the Times Prince William, Prince Harry, and Duchess Kate Battled the Stigma of Mental Illness

The three royals have gone beyond royal engagements and tours, using their influence to focus on the formerly taboo subject of mental health.
IMAGE YOUTUBE/ Heads Together
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In honor of World Mental Health Day, we’re taking a look at the contributions of Prince William, Prince Harry, and Duchess Kate toward ending the stigma against mental disorders.

Spearheading the Heads Together initiative

In April 2016, the three royals launched the Heads Together campaign in order to end the stigma surrounding mental health. As far as the initiative’s mission is concerned, “The Heads Together campaign aims to change the national conversation on mental wellbeing and will be a partnership with inspiring charities with decades of experience in tackling stigma, raising awareness, and providing vital help for people with mental health challenges.”


With the support of The Royal Foundation, Heads Together works with several organizations such as Best Beginnings, The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), Contact (a military mental health coalition), Mind, Place2Be, The Mix, and YoungMinds.

Launching the #OkToSay campaign

Under Heads Together, Their Royal Highnesses have launched the well-received #OkToSay series to encourage ongoing conversations on mental illness. #OkToSay features actor Stephen Fry, former professional footballer Rio Ferdinand, Asian Network DJ Mim Shaikh, and Katharine Welby-Roberts, the daughter of the Archbishop of Canterbury, relating their experiences and the difficulty of talking about mental health.

The most successful of the series involves American singer-songwriter and actress Lady Gaga, who engaged in a Skype call with Prince William to discuss how vital mental health dialogues are in this day and age. In the video, Prince William commended Lady Gaga’s open letter on her struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) published on the website of her Born This Way Foundation. The personalities then forged a pact to work together in furthering the cause. To date, the video has been viewed over 1,200,000 times on Facebook and has totaled over 19 million views across all platforms. On top of that, the whole #OkToSay campaign has reached 50 million people all over the world.

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Prince Harry's personal battles

In addition to spreading awareness by campaigning, Prince Harry has defied royal convention by openly speaking about his own mental struggles. In April, the Prince shared his 20-year journey into coming to terms with his mother, Princess Diana's death. In an interview on The Telegraph's "Mad World" podcast, the 32-year-old spoke candidly of how his life descended into "total chaos" in the decades after his mother perished in a tragic car accident in 1997.

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"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, has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life but my work as well," he continued. "I have probably been very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions when all sorts of grief and sort of lies and misconceptions and everything is coming to you from every angle."

He then revealed that he suffered from panic attacks, stemming in part, from dealing with his grief in a very public setting. "Every single time I was in any room with loads of people, which is quite often, I was just pouring with sweat, like heart beating – boom, boom, boom, boom - and literally just like a washing machine," Harry said.

Recognizing mental health in the Armed Forces

Prince Harry cites his time in the military as the turning point in getting mental help. “Once I plucked my head out of the sand, post-Afghan... It had a huge, life-changing moment for me as well—'Right, you are Prince Harry, you can do this, as long as you're not a complete tit, then you're gonna be able to get that support, because you've got the credibility of 10 years' service and therefore, you can really make a difference',” he shared.

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One of Prince Harry’s latest advocacies is promoting mental health strategies with armed forces personnel training. In a speech at the Ministry of Defense, the Prince said, “Quite simply, these men and women are prized assets which need to be continually invested in. We surely have to think of them as high-performance athletes, carrying all their kit, equipment and a rifle,” he said. “Crucially, fighting fitness is not just about physical fitness. It is just as much about mental fitness too.”

The speech is part of an announcement of the joint initiative between the Ministry and the Royal Foundation, aimed at the mental betterment of military workers, civilian staff, their families, and veterans.

Dedicating £2 million to Heads Together

Yesterday, Prince William, Prince Harry, and Duchess Kate pledged to donate £2 million of their Royal Foundation funds to further their Heads Together campaign. The second phase of their initiative aims to reach more people through the use of various online tools. The digital mental health strategy will help push conversations that will end the stigma and spread awareness as well as spreading help and information to those in need.

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Prince William announced the move during a visit to the Data Observatory at Imperial College London. During his visit, the Prince also learned of the Heads Together campaign's impact with a study conducted by market research firm YouGov. The study of 14,000 people revealed the changing approach toward mental disorders starting February and May this year, tracing back to Heads Together's strong campaigns.

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Paolo Chua
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