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What the Reaction to Prince Harry's 'Stigma Shattering' Says About Mental Health in the UK

Criticising the prince for not acknowledging cuts isn't "anti-Royal for the sake of it"; it's completely and totally fair.

by Hannah Ewens
Apr 18 2017, 2:36pm

Prince Harry (Picture via Department of Defense)

Everyone has mental health. Celebrities, the homeless, your dad, you, me – even the Royal Family. William and Kate have spent the past month trying to "shatter stigma on mental health", and over the weekend Prince Harry joined them, by talking about the grief he experienced after losing his mother, and how important counselling was during that period.

The response to Harry's admission tells you everything you need to know about the state of mental health in Britain.

On a positive note, the Royal Family are about as high profile as it gets. Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, noted that, for this reason, the interview will have a huge impact: "It's inspiring to see Prince Harry speaking out about his experiences," he said. "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."

The prince deserves this praise, of course, but it's where else it's coming from that's troubling. Tories and the right-wing press have congratulated Harry for dismantling stigma around mental health, but conveniently ignored the government's lack of funding when it comes to mental health services. Theresa May, for example, applauded Harry for opening up – which is nice, but odd in the context of her government systematically slashing National Health Service mental health budgets.

This issue has been voiced by normal Brits who have previously spoken up and asked for help, only to find they can't access the treatment they need. "'Prince Harry seeking therapy will help people'. Not when they go to their GP who ridicules them or puts them on a year-long wait list," said one Twitter user. "I'd feel for prince harry if he came out & said he got help for his mental health & made a point of mentioning the budget cuts to MH sect," said another.

Just as worrying is the retaliation from a notably white, middle class cross section of social media users who are dismissing these frustrations as merely "snark" or "anti-Royal for the sake of being anti-Royal". These tweeters miss the point entirely: stigma-bashing, while ultimately helpful, just isn't enough in a time when those actively seeking it cannot get the help they need.

If you don't feel solidarity with people frustrated with the Royals for not acknowledging the lack of state help for working class people, I can only assume you've never had to rely on the NHS for treatment. You must have had other options when you or people you care about have struggled, and lucky you. But imagine what it must feel like to deal with persistent suicidal thoughts, or experience psychotic episodes, or have to be a primary caregiver to a loved one, only to be confronted with a waiting list months or even a year long. People can spiral while waiting for treatment. A need for Cognitive-behavioural therapy for anxiety can slip into depression, which can slip into mild psychosis. It's also important to note that once you've finally had first line treatment it's often hard or impossible to access treatment beyond that, unless you're severely ill.

Mental health is deeply political. Any attempts to depoliticise it by denying people in need the right to be angry should be opposed. These rebuttals perpetuate false mental health narratives – that empathy and empathy alone can "cure" illness; that talking is enough; or that everyone's mental health is the same and can be talked about in the same breath – and remove gender, sexuality, race, class and austerity from the conversation, despite all these things being important factors.

British Politician, David Cameron promised a "mental health revolution", yet under a Tory government and years of austerity, cuts to provisions have continued. A quarter of young people seeking mental health care are turned away by specialist services because of a lack of resources; people are travelling hundreds of miles for a hospital bed; children are waiting more than a year for mental health treatment. Theresa May – who called an early election today – has promised to tackle the "stigma" of mental health, but dismissed calls for extra funding. In fact, she literally told Sky News: "It is always wrong for people to assume that the only answer to these issues is about funding."

So if what underprivileged people are hearing from Royals – regardless of how important and touching and relatively brave it might be – mirrors the contradictory statements and the lack of acknowledgement of privilege they're hearing from Conservative politicians, can you blame them for their frustration?

These are dangerous times, and without anger and mobilisation the mental health of those in need will continue to suffer. If the Tory trend of all talk, no action continues, there are darker times ahead for the mental health of ordinary Brits.

@hannahrosewens

More on mental health:

How Mental Health Became the New Feminism

The Poorest Areas of Britain Are Prescribed the Most Anti-Depressants

The People Who Make Mental Health Storylines on TV Realistic

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