Good on William, Kate and Harry for talking about mental health

Tuesday 24 May 2016

“That’s a shocking number,” he told her. “And that’s only in East Anglia. I dread to think what the national total is.” Our friend is a journalist who is quite open about the fact that she suffers from depression.

It regularly plunges her into intolerable pain and despair, as it did Sally Brampton, the successful writer, journalist and agony aunt who, having written about her own battle with the illness, finally lost the war the week before last. She walked into the sea near her home. Friends say that though they’re sad they are relieved she is at last at peace.

Depression, thank goodness, is finally being talked about openly, gradually dispelling the shame and guilt that victims feel. This has been Mental Health Awareness Week and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, plus the indefatigable Prince Harry, have launched Heads Together, a new initiative aimed at getting people talking about psychological illness: admitting it, de-stigmatising it, getting the whole dark, shameful subject into the open where, exposed to light and air, sufferers can feel encouraged to ask for help.

It’s about time we opened up about serious depression. At least one in four of us will suffer from it in our lifetime. I know what I’m talking about. After my last child was born I developed post-natal depression.

Sounds a bit glib, doesn’t it? The baby blues, they call them. But it’s so much worse than that. Although many of us recover, the reality is that a startling number of women never completely get over it.

So how do you feel when you are diagnosed with clinical depression after you’ve just had a healthy, gorgeous baby? Guilty and ashamed. A glorious event which you had longed for, a happy family, a loving husband, and all you want to do is go to sleep and never wake up again.

Oblivion. That’s what Sally Brampton craved. It’s the common denominator, the signature tune of all of those who suffer from severe depression and anxiety. It makes no sense of course. All normal rules for happiness – love, safety, a conventionally secure life – are seemingly inexplicably turned upside down by a weird chemical imbalance in the brain.

So good for the young royals and their wish to embrace and alleviate the stigma of mental illness. Last week I wrote about Prince Harry’s sterling efforts to promote the Invictus Games, in which former servicemen and women, disabled physically and/or mentally by their time in our Armed Forces, have discovered new purpose, ambition and fulfilment. Now, together with his brother and sister-in-law, he’s fabulously doing it again.

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