Unless you’ve unplugged from news and media over the last year (we wouldn’t blame you), you’ve probably sensed a significant shift in the amount of talk about mental wellbeing, masculinity and, promisingly, male suicide. It feels like there’s been a sea change in awareness levels and discussion. CALM has played a part, you have played a part, thousands of musicians, artists, writers, comedians, campaigners and sports people have played a part.
And the Royal Foundation’s Heads Together campaign has too – with the stated aim of ending the stigma and changing the conversation on mental health once and for all. Ahead of the Heads Together campaign crescendo at the London Marathon we asked the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry about the message they want send to the world.
CALM is excited to be a Heads Together partner. What do you hope to achieve through the campaign?
Duke Of Cambridge: Catherine, Harry and I have all been working through our charitable work with organisations dealing with the military, young people, addiction and homelessness. One thing that was clear to us was how many of these issues have a mental health concern at their root, but people can’t and won’t get help because they are ashamed of what people might think. For me, the tipping point came when I saw the impact of suicide through my work as a helicopter pilot with the East Anglian Air Ambulance. My first call out was to a male suicide and I was told there were five suicides or attempted suicides every day in East Anglia alone. When I looked into it I was shocked by how bad this situation is – suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK – which is absolutely appalling. I hope that through Heads Together and with CALM we can show how to tackle this – by helping men feel they can open up about pressures they are going through and get the help they need.
Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK, which is absolutely appalling.
Prince Harry: We will all go through tough times in our lives, but men especially feel the need to pretend that everything is OK, and that admitting this to their friends will make them appear weak. I can assure you this is actually a sign of strength. Since working with the rehabilitation unit in the Army, and my work with injured servicemen and women in the Invictus Games, I’ve realised just how important mental fitness is for men and women in the armed forces too. Some people experience issues connected to their military service but often it is related to things they were dealing with before they signed up. I think it reflects the increase in mental health problems across society. The support we can provide servicemen and women is getting better – as is our understanding of the issue. Since we launched Heads Together I’ve met inspirational people who’ve given me confidence that we can all crack this together and make talking about getting help for our mental health as normal as talking about our physical health. Let’s remove the stigma to give people from all walks of life the confidence to be able to seek help and direct them towards the right support for them.
We will all go through tough times in our lives, but men especially feel the need to pretend that everything is OK
We absolutely agree. Is there something distinctly British about bottling up emotion? Brits, and British men in particular, are known for having a ‘stiff upper lip’…
Duke of Cambridge: For too long there has been a taboo about talking about some important issues. If you were anxious; it’s because you were weak. If you couldn’t cope with whatever life threw at you, it’s because you were failing. Successful, strong people don’t suffer like that, do they? But of course – we all do. It’s just that few of us speak about it. Attitudes are changing and this is being helped by high-profile people talking about their experience. Men like Professor Green, Freddie Flintoff and Rio Ferdinand have led the way and made films for Heads Together showing the conversations they have had about pressures on their mental health. The recent interview with Stormzy about his depression was incredibly powerful and will help young men feel that it’s a sign of strength to talk about and look after your mind as well as your body. There may be a time and a place for the ‘Stiff upper lip’, but not at the expense of your health.
The recent interview with Stormzy about his depression was incredibly powerful and will help young men feel that it’s a sign of strength to talk about and look after your mind as well as your body.
Thinking about ‘a time and a place for the stiff upper lip’, we could say that some of these ideas have origin in the military. What insight have your jobs in the military given you into ideas around masculinity and mental health?
Prince Harry: The military is a complex picture as on the one hand there is an incredible sense of brotherhood and belonging between you and your mates. You’ll do anything for each other, scrub each other’s boots, drag each other through the mud, anything. Yet, on the other hand, this support for each other hasn’t, up to now, included looking after how your buddy is feeling and thinking about things. When you’re serving you look after your physical health, your training and your equipment, but not your head. There’s definitely been a misplaced sense of pride that has got in the way of people in the military community talking about their mental health and getting help. It’s changing now and i’m proud that this is part of the Heads Together campaign. Hopefully if men see soldiers talking about mental health, it will give them the confidence to do the same. At the end of the day we all want to be as physically fit and robust as possible; keeping on top of our mental fitness will not only prepare us better for the days ahead, it will make us better people too.
You’ll do anything for each other, scrub each other’s boots, drag each other through the mud, anything. Yet this support for each other hasn’t included looking after how your buddy is feeling and thinking about things.
Duke Of Cambridge: Sometimes, emotions have to be put to one side to get the job done, but if you have been through an especially traumatic or stressful situation it is essential to talk it through after the event. If you don’t acknowledge how you feel it will only bottle up, and could reassert itself later as illness.
May men will head down the pub when things get tough, or maybe go to the gym. What do you do if you get stressed?
Duke of Cambridge: In my work with the East Anglia Air Ambulance you never know what you will be called out to and we see things each day that can really take their toll. If I’ve had a tough day at work I talk to my friends and colleagues about it. We’re encouraged to talk it through with each other and to let someone know if we are feeling overwhelmed or unable to cope. It really is as simple as that – if you are feeling overwhelmed, having a conversation with someone can really help.
In my work with the East Anglia Air Ambulance we see things each day that can really take their toll. If I’ve had a tough day at work I talk to my friends and colleagues about it.
Becoming a father must bring a new perspective on certain ideas about gender taking hold in early life. What values would you like to instil in your son? What ideas of masculinity would you promote?
Duke of Cambridge: Catherine and I are clear that we want both George and Charlotte to grow up feeling able to talk about their emotions and feelings. Over the past year we have visited a number of schools together where we have been amazed listening to children talk about some quite difficult subjects in a really clear and emotionally articulate way – something most adults would struggle with. Seeing this has really given me hope that things are changing and that there is a generation coming up who find it normal to talk openly about their emotions. Emotional intelligence is key for us all to deal with the complexities of life and relationships.
Catherine and I are clear that we want both George and Charlotte to grow up feeling able to talk about their emotions and feelings.
Keep an eye out for William and Prince Harry’s Heads Together campaign supporting the Virgin Money London Marathon on 23 April 2017. If you’d like to join #TeamCALM to whoop, whistle and cheer, join us at Mile 17.
You can check out films from Heads Together featuring Professor Green, Rio Ferdinand and Freddie Flintoff at headstogether.org.uk.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article or in the comments below, are not those held by CALM or its Trustees unless stated, and liability cannot be accepted for such comments. We encourage friendly and constructive debate, but please don't share personal contact details when commenting and exercise caution when considering any advice offered by others. We don’t allow abusive, offensive or inappropriate comments or comments that could be interpreted as libellous, defamatory or commercial and we will remove these without warning as and when we find them.