Men and Mental Health

There’s a stigma about mental health. Progress has been made in this field but it remains an area around which there is a lot of ignorance. It is therefore disappointing to read of a backlash against the bravery displayed by Prince Harry, who has recently spoken out against hiding anguish and grief in the wake of his mother’s death. His brother Prince William has also talked about this subject with pop star Lady Gaga, helping to raise the profile of mental health issues very publicly, especially in relation to men’s mental health, where the ‘stiff upper lip’ culture (particularly here in the UK) is a barrier to meaningful conversation. The backlash I refer to? It’s from a site called Conservative Woman, and the author of this particular article from Kathy Gyngell manages to overlook the big picture, as well as committing a spectacular red herring.

I quote, from the sixth paragraph, which refers to the idea of mental health being a taboo subject.

It came as news to me. We live in a culture that does nothing but – ad nauseam. You cannot escape it. Now men must cry too. Feminisation is the modern answer to male problems and is what the Princes are giving their imprimatur to. They would have been better to stick with the army.

What’s wrong with men crying? I cried at the birth of my daughter, because it was a beautiful moment and a moment of pure, wonderful emotion. I cried when my beloved Nan died. I shed tears when my cat, Trinity, died last year. Of course, this goes far beyond men being able to show their feelings – and beyond the mythical idea of the ‘feminisation’ of men. There are many faucets to mental health, and many ways for these problems to manifest themselves. The point of Prince Harry’s admission? That he had contained for twenty years the pain and grief of his mother’s death, because of outdated societal expectations that he conceal it.

Of course, the Princes suffered a particularly traumatic loss, one intensified by the glare of media interest, by their parent’s prior extra marital and publicly known relationships, by the public’s Diana obsession and also by Tony Blair’s political exploitation of her death. That they have felt the need for professional ‘therapeutic’ help should surprise no one. That is not what I condemn.

So what exactly are you condemning Kathy?

Their family, like most, pulled together in the way it could and coped. That is the lesson, not that we need a mental health nurse in every classroom to make sure toddlers share their feelings. Anyway, grief and bereavement are not mental health disorders for heaven’s sake. They are normal emotions that everyone at some point will experience.

Bottling up grief for two decades because it apparently isn’t seemly to express them, even as a child, is not normal, so whilst Kathy is not wrong that grief is a normal emotion, the process in which it was handled here clearly wasn’t right.

Modelling public policy on the Princes’ adult accounts of their particular childhood grief is a complete nonsense. Turning private grief into public drama is the problem not the solution. For the last thing children need is to be made to share their feelings with strangers and, worst of all, in public in the classroom.

I’m not aware of any kind of policy to make people air their grief publicly. That’s not the issue and it never was. The issue is that people are not encouraged to seek help for their problems – that isn’t ‘British’, and it isn’t ‘manly’.

I happen to know. One of my children was subjected to one such clumsy PHSE attempt at counselling in the weeks before his father’s death. No doubt this class pre-bereavement ‘help’ exercise was well meant but it inflicted on my unsuspecting 11-year-old  an attention he hated, found distressing and which was unwelcome to us both. I doubt Harry either would have appreciated it much at the time. But that is the Pandora’s box he has opened up.

Therapy culture trumped my child’s right to and desire for privacy.  If it becomes the new orthodoxy it will institutionalise yet another State intrusion of the private sphere and a takeover of family life that the progressively illiberal liberal Left’s agenda dictates.

I’m not aware of any coherent policy that forces counselling upon kids – what happened to Kathy’s child was unfortunate but it is not, to my knowledge, a widespread government mandate. This is a typical reactionary right stance – the slippery slope fallacy.

She finishes her article with a blatent red herring:

Prince Harry does have unique platform and position to do more than politically correct posturing if he feels the need. One cause springs to mind that seems to have bypassed his celebrity pals. It is child labour in the Congo – yes the servitude that keeps us all in smart phones.

View this film. If this child cruelty, as bad as anything from Victorian Britain, taking place right now in the mines of the Congo, doesn’t put the Princes’ self-indulgent mental health heart wringing into perspective, nothing will.

Prince Harry carries out a lot of charity work. So does Prince William. It is possible to do so and be aware of the importance of one’s own health, including mental health.

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