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Can Prince Harry's 20 Year Battle With Mental Health Encourage Children To 'Start A Conversation'?

27/04/2017 10:11 BST | Updated 03/05/2017 15:47 BST

"I've spent most of my life saying I'm fine". That's how Prince Harry started a very honest and candid interview about his own struggles with mental health on the Telegraph's Mad World podcast. Hosted by Bryony Gordon, who talks about her own mental health battles, the modern young royal spoke openly about how the death of his mother affected his mental wellbeing from the tender age of 12.

Coming to terms with the loss of a parent at such a young age is not something many of us can relate to. Having to cope with such grief in the public eye is simply unimaginable. So how did the Prince cope? The simple answer is, he didn't.

"Shutting down all of my emotions for the last twenty years has had a serious effect on my personal life."

In the immediate aftermath of his mother's death, and for many years after, I'm sure Prince Harry was surrounded by not only a loving family, but also the best counselors and child psychologists available. However, as the podcast reveals, he wasn't ready to talk.

"I buried my head in the sand for years."

He goes on to say "it's all about timing" and I'd love to say I agree, but it's not just about timing, it's about timing and tools. You see in a recent speech at a mental health conference I used an analogy to describe what can happen when children want to communicate - "children are like clams, if you're not there when they open up, they will close again, you have to be there at the right time".

Despite being told "you can tell me anything" adults are naive to believe that children will communicate all of their fears. If we want children to talk, we really need to give them tools that enable them to start the conversation when they are ready.

"even if it's a small problem from your youth... no matter who you are, a conversation has to be the beginning."

Harry is right, but starting a conversation when you are anxious, sad, full of fear, or worrying that your worry might be trivialised by a parent or teacher, is easier said than done. Would the 12 year old Harry confide in today's 32 year old Harry? Probably not.

"I didn't know what was wrong with me."

I wonder how many children and young people are asking themselves this very question right now? During the interview Prince Harry recognises "it's completely normal to feel this way". Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but sadly not for the many children that are questioning their mental wellbeing. These are the children that should be starting a conversation, but can't.

We know from our focus groups and school trials that children not only trust The Worrinots, they happily start conversations with them too. Suggesting that children are more likely to communicate fears to an adult after they've had the confidence to say it digitally first. Rather like the Prince states..."I opened up to my mates first [I] felt more comfortable with them, rather than a complete stranger"

Whilst some children are drawn to the four Worrinot characters (Rip, Stomp, Shakey and Chomp) who are subliminal coping mechanisms, it's the app's Worri-Tips that provide vital tactics and knowledge to worried children and proactively prepare and educate others too.

"Rather than, a week later or twenty years later, what could've been something small can then grow into this beast of a snowball you can't dislodge"

From bereavement, family breakdowns, and social pressures from the digital world, children have a lot to deal with. Like adults, I'm certain that each child copes with different worries in different ways. It's vital that children realise they are not alone and it's normal to feel these emotions. Prince Harry says it himself "everyone struggles...we're not robots".

Be it confiding in a character or accessing verified coping mechanisms, it's important to understand what we feel. With the family edition of The Worrinots app being launched within the next few weeks, we hope that more children will be encouraged to start the conversation when they are ready too.

Listen to the full candid interview here