Listening to Prince Harry talk so openly and candidly about mental health with Bryony Gordon was extraordinary and a relief. He was human and vulnerable just like the rest of us. In their public duties the two princes and the Duchess of Cambridge talk to a wide cross section of people and it seems the same recurring issue crops up: mental health. Mental health is at a critical juncture, not just in the UK, but globally.
Hearing a male perspective was also eye opening. Of course he suffered terribly when Princess Diana died, I recall watching the princes walk behind the coffin, keeping their emotions in, as if crying or breaking down would have been a sign of weakness. That he has not been able to process his grief for so long was very moving. We often think perhaps that others who have all the trappings and comforts do not suffer, but of course they do, just as Princess Diana had her own struggles. I am sure she would be proud of her boys and their efforts to instigate change with their Heads Together campaign and the first mental health marathon to raise awareness and dispel stigma.
Prince Harry has broadened the debate, talking about veterans with PTSD, young people who have tried to commit suicide, the CEO under stress, the mother coping alone with her children, and Bryony said herself it's normal to feel weird, and spoke of her way of coping through drugs and alcohol in the past. Other men are also coming forward talking about their emotions, depression and grief like Professor Green and the footballer Rio Ferdinand. Times are really changing when men start talking about their feelings.
The prince said it is better to talk to someone, to offload to a psychiatrist or psychotherapist. He didn't mention helplines, but that is an option too, certainly it is better to get it out than keep the pain in.
Bryony asked Prince Harry how he kept sane and he said boxing helped to channel his aggression and that he had come close to punching someone once. Sport, running, being in touch with nature - all these things have helped.
The most powerful part of the whole podcast was the fact that he was a man talking so openly. Prince Harry epitomises the strong, alpha male - the handsome prince who outwardly has it all and now a beautiful successful girlfriend. He has had personal tragedy in his life but in the past perhaps he would have said, others have gone through worse, and try to be stoic. Yet now he admits he has struggled and was even close to a nervous breakdown. That's huge to make such a public declaration.
His brother Prince William, during his work as a pilot for East Anglia Air Ambulance, recalled how his first call out was in fact a suicide. Apparently five people each day try to commit suicide in East Anglia, a shocking statistic.
The Duchess of Cambridge is supporting maternal mental health and despite getting help and support as a mother, admits that she still finds motherhood challenging and daunting. An admission that will comfort mothers everywhere who can find motherhood lonely, tiring, relentless, demanding, as well as being wonderful and amazing.
My children are now three and six; my bout of maternal mental illness, which began as pre natal depression, feeling suicidal and morose during both pregnancies followed by postpartum psychosis is finally coming to an end. Apart from the odd vision, most of the symptoms have abated. All I can say is I am much better, functioning better, calmer and my sleep disorder seems to be under control. But I am still haunted by the memories, the guilt - none of that goes away. I try and be in the present and focus on the now. The mental wellbeing of my children is paramount, like Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge, I want my children to be able to talk about their emotions, I am already teaching them mental health.
Self Portrait, pencil on paper, part of a series I have been doing since I was 11 trying to document my changing mental landscape (year unknown)
Having a close circle of people that understand you and your brain and your mental health seems absolutely critical, staying away from those that have no empathy, think it is a charade or a game, believe the symptoms are a fabrication is a no brainer. Recently I did a cull of people from my life thinking carefully if certain individuals were a positive influence, if they had been abusive or unkind, let me down - I was ruthless. As a result there is less noise now, less conflict, doing the cull has helped to conserve my energy and protect my mental health. It's not just exercise and diet that is critical, it is breaking negative patterns of behaviour, which can become endemic.
In London I recently performed songs related to mental health that I have been composing since March 2016 and read poems from my new book Dented (due out in October, Chipmunka Press) related to my psychosis of 2009. Some people in the audience asked, 'Why are you revelling in your pain?', 'You have two children, why aren't you happy?'. I was quite shocked that I had to justify or explain; thankfully most people appreciated my openness. Pain still seems to repel others, people can look at you and make assumptions and assertions, something Prince Harry knows all too well.
Since I embarked on my mental health campaigning I have spoken at the House of Lords, the House of Commons in London, Burma, Singapore, Malaysia, Bangladesh, London, Brussels: have I helped others by sharing and expressing my views about mental health? I do not know. There will be those that object to my approach and be critical, but like Prince Harry I am just being honest. Honesty about mental health is the only way forward.