October 23, 2017
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How Princess Diana’s Death Spurred Prince William to Campaign for Mental Health

“You never get over it.  I still feel it 20 years later about my mother.  I still have shock within me.”

Prince William, The Duke of Cambridge, has said the death of his mother Diana, Princess of Wales, spurred him on to tackle the issue of mental health.  Speaking after the preview screening of a BBC documentary about a group of London Marathon runners with psychological problems, the Duke said the more “influential and very important” people open up about their “issues and their battles” the better.  He pledges it is “time everyone speaks up.”

His words follow widespread praise for his brother Prince Harry, who gave an emotional interview this week in which he revealed he sought professional help four years ago after struggling with the grief of his mother’s death.  “My way of dealing with it was sticking in my head in the sand, refusing to ever think about my mum, because why would that help, it’s only going to make you sad, it’s not going to bring her back,” Harry told The Telegraph. 

William has not commented on whether he also sought professional help, but said that he had a “good support network” that had helped him cope.  Diana, Princess of Wales, died on August 31, 1997, when Prince Harry was 12 and Prince William was 15.

The Duke, along with his wife the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, has been campaigning for Heads Together to encourage the nation to speak about their psychological problems or to be a sympathetic ear.  Lady Gaga has joined their campaign, teaming up with the Duke for a video where they encouraged people to open up about their feelings and bring an end to the “shame” of talking about mental health issues.

“It never leaves you, you just learn to deal with it.”

Prince William speaks of the moment he was woken up to be told his mother had died in a car crash 20 years ago, saying: “The shock never leaves you.”  William, now 34, was staying with the Queen at Balmoral when his mother Princess Diana died in Paris, said: “The shock is the biggest thing, and I still feel it 20 years later about my mother.  I still have shock within me. People say shock can’t last that long, but it does. You never get over it. It’s such an unbelievably big moment in your life that it never leaves you, you just learn to deal with it.”

The Prince was speaking to Rhian Burke, whose one-year-old son George died suddenly from pneumonia and a form of swine flu in February 2012. Just five days later her husband Paul, 33, took his own life.

“They’ll be OK won’t they?”

Mrs. Burke, 39, who has two surviving children Holly, nine, and Isaac, eight, asked the prince: “You were obviously a little bit older than my children [when Diana passed away], but I obviously worry about them growing up, they’ll be OK won’t they?”  William replied: “With a mum like you they’ll be absolutely fine. That’s true, they will be. Because you’re aware of all this, you’re already a step ahead.”

“Once you start rationalizing it, and understand, ‘I’m really angry and really upset about something,’ then you can, I think, relativize it and deal with it.”  The Prince went on to share with Mrs. Burke, “You’ll provide the blanket of stability and understanding they need. I can’t tell you enough, you doing this is an incredibly big, positive step, and I really hope it brings you what you need.”

Their conversation appears in the two-part documentary Mind Over Marathon, which follows a group of runners preparing for this weekend’s London Marathon who have faced mental health problems.  When her son died, Burke said the family received no professional support, and after her husband died, they were left “completely abandoned.” To try to ensure no one else has to deal with what she has, which left her facing anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, she founded the child bereavement charity 2 Wish Upon a Star.

Speaking after the screening of the first installment of the two-part Mind over Marathon documentary, at Old Broadcasting House, in central London, the Duke said:  “I’m speechless actually. I’m quite emotional. So I am just going to take a minute to calm myself down.” He went on to say: “I really think this is a pivotal moment in the change of mental health. I really think we’re on the cusp of something really big and I know the BBC are keen to continue covering mental health and really trying to make that change.”

“We need to make mental health normal.”

“As you can see, you know, I have my own reasons for being involved in mental health – what happened to me with my mother when I was younger – but equally the charitable work I do at the moment and the areas that I’m involved in, it all comes back to mental health.”

Speaking without notes, the Duke went on to say: “So many parts of what I go and visit and people I meet, mental health is at the key heart of all their problems, whether it’s homelessness, veterans’ welfare, addiction, many of that stems from mental health issues.”

“And we need to make mental health normal, we need to treat it the same way we treat physical health, it has to be seen in the same way.  And the more documentaries we have like this, the more we have influential and very important people speaking about their issues and their battles, the better.”

The first part of the program, Mind over Marathon, will be broadcast at 9pm on BBC One on Thursday.

About Heads Together:  The Heads Together campaign is jointly coordinated by The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, with the aim to end stigma around mental health in the UK.

Prince Harry, Grief, and The Challenge Men Face in Asking for Help

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Jonathan Hetterly, LPC

Jonathan Hetterly is a therapist, writer, and pop culture addict. He’s also a contributor to The Shrink Tank podcast. Follow him at @jhetterly and @shrink_tank.

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