The problem with Prince Harry’s mental health narrative

19 Apr , 2017  

By  -  
Amit is the co-editor of Consented

Prince Harry recently opened up about his mental health problems and was met with a great deal of positivity by much of the press as well as many politicians. MPs such as Chuka Umunna, John Woodcock and John Nicholson took to Twitter to share their own stories whilst Prime Minister Theresa May hailed Harry’s admission as a “really important moment” for Britain.

The Prince’s statements coincide with the Royal Family announcing a new campaign, Heads Together, which is aimed at removing the stigma around mental health problems.

It is undeniably a positive thing when a high profile person speaks about their mental health problems, particularly as many people suffer in silence and it is also true that there does exist a stigma with regards to these issues.

However, such celebrity speeches are not the be-all-and-end-all of our focus and generally speaking there has been increase in the number of campaigns aimed at talking about mental health problems over recent years. More to the point, the Royal Family’s project is only going to speak to a certain type of person (wealthy, white) and suffers from glaring hypocrisies.

The most overt of these is the fact that Theresa May has praised the move despite her government actively making life harder for people seeking care for mental health problems. The Tories have been butchering the funding of mental health services since 2010 with demand doubling whilst £538 million annual cuts have been ordered.

For May to praise Harry’s pronouncement as a “really important moment” is incredibly disingenuous. If she really believed in the importance of the moment she’d pledge to stop cutting funds to the services that people who don’t have Prince in front of their name badly need. Or go even further and not only stop cutting but also pledge to commit more funds.

As well as this obvious point, the interview in which Harry opened up took place in the right wing Telegraph who have set up The Telegraph’s Mad World series with the aim of creating “frank and open discussion about mental health”. Yet publications like the Telegraph and more so The Sun (who also carried news of the story and gave coverage to Heads Together) actively contribute to a climate that is damaging the mental health of many citizens. The Sun routinely hosts content that is damaging to people of colour and is likely to contribute to low self-esteem and mental health problems.

Like the campaign more broadly, which consists solely of white people, such efforts only speak to a certain demographic, rather than being broader reaching. Unfortunately, whilst it is clear that the Prince’s suffered a horrible loss at a very young age, this whole saga looks like a PR effort from the Royal Family. Such efforts are also problematic when we consider that mental health services are being cut whilst Buckingham Palace is set for a £369 million refurbishment at the taxpayers expense. This is the money that could spent on other things, such as mental health services. So too could the £46 million a year the Queen gets as an income.

Such observations might sound irrelevant to discussions about mental health but when funding is such a critical issue, it is absolutely central. It’s about what the government wants to spend money on and what it doesn’t. Of course, cuts to services are not something that Harry, William, Kate or any of the celebrities endorsing their campaign will ever need to worry about.

This makes their efforts troublesome because if their campaign is not critical of capitalism, structural racism and colonialism, it will always leave certain bodies behind and thus only plaster over mental health problems, rather than changing the structures cause our unhappiness.

It goes without saying that the Royals are never going to campaign against capitalism or racism but their whole movement is pretty pointless if it doesn’t at least talk about the need for more and better funded services. A real start would have been the Royals calling out Theresa May for slashing mental health budgets, but there’s about as much chance of that happening as there is of Prince Charles establishing a Republic upon Elizabeth’s death.

2 Responses

  1. Oliver Gill says:

    Long history of Windsor’s quietly hiding away relatives with MH over past century. Also Harry is clearly a very personable fellow, but is delayed or bottled up grief a mental illness? Is it comparable with other PTSDisorders? The cuts to MH budgets really make a difference if you live with the long term disorders.

    • Rab McNamara says:

      I think delayed grief can lead to mental health issues or indeed mental illness and while I’m not a royalist, I think that there has been a long tradition of hiding ‘flawed’ royalties that goes beyond the English throne. Is delayed grief comparable with long term mental illness? When a person doesn’t have access to the support they need, or even know what support they need, then, I guess it can become a long term mental illness. For some, if not many, early intervention would go a long way to ‘preventing’ the onset of mental illness. Personally I think there is a great difference between psychological illness and psychiatric illness but, that’s just me really. Sadly, the average person doesn’t have the right access to either.

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