So, Kate Middleton has waded into Mental Health discussions with a just-under three minute video urging us to 'speak out' and reduce stigma. A not insignificant part of me is incredibly pleased that such a high profile person has acknowledged the importance of the issue. The other part is a bit annoyed at the way she went about it.
In her video, designed to raise awareness of charity 'Place to Be', of whom she is a patron, HRH Duchess of Cambridge speaks of 'bereavement', 'domestic violence' and 'bullying' which can lead to 'serious issues' such as anxiety, depression, self-harm and addiction. Apparently herself and Wills have 'seen it' - though of course they haven't experienced it first-hand because mental health is only relevant to those who have been bullied, or come from broken homes or have experienced life-traumas, right?
This kind of 'us-and-them' rhetoric distances us from something which is in fact relevant to everyone. Whilst one in four people will statistically suffer from a mental health 'issue' during their lives, one hundred percent of us have a mental health. It is that obvious yet salient fact which is missing from public discourse. Most people are aware that in order to maintain a level of physical fitness they need to make smart food choices and exercise regularly and yet there is no such understanding for the equally important health of the mind.
Of course disturbing experiences, particularly in childhood, can exacerbate mental health problems. Yet for every child who has been bullied and self-harms as a coping mechanism there is another who experiences anxiety for a reason they can't put their finger on. For every child who develops an eating disorder as a way of externalising the pain of abuse there is another who got a virus, had everyone tell them how lovely they looked because of their subsequent weight loss and simply stopped eating.
I know this because I work with 500 teenagers, from a variety of cultural and social backgrounds, every week. The ones most reticent to talk about the issues they are experiencing are the ones who have no tangible explanation for what they are going through. These are the same children who worry that if they speak out about what is going on inside their heads their parents will get the blame, or they'll be taken away from their friends.
Princess Kate is entirely correct, there is still a social stigma surrounding mental health and that prevents people from seeking and receiving the help they need. Yet suggesting mental health issues always have a dramatic cause feeds into that stigma.
Self-esteem and good mental health aren't something you either have or you don't, they are, in the words of my colleague Grace Barrett "something you work on every day". Anyone can unwittingly neglect to take care of their mind and find themselves in the grips of depression, or self-soothing with drugs and alcohol.
Perhaps, if the powers-that-be REALLY want to help, then more than the current paltry 10% of public health funding should be spent not only on treating, but on preventing mental health issues.