Rae Ritchie examines how the young royals are contributing to conversations around mental health and asks if other contributions are being overlooked …
The first part of BBC1’s documentary ‘Mind Over Marathon’ aired last Thursday.
It explored the stories of novice London Marathon runners, all of whom had experienced mental health issues.
The second part airs this week, following up on how they did during the 26 mile race and after.
The programme both builds upon and contributes to the recent increase in public discussion of mental health, specifically the ‘Heads Together’ campaign fronted by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge along with Prince Harry, all of whom appear in the first episode.
The public response has been supportive, reflecting widespread concern about mental health even if this is not matched by a similar level of knowledge about the issues involved.
‘It was very good’, people have told me, ‘Did you see it?’ My response – ‘I was out for a meal; I’ll try to catch up with it’ – is the truth but also a diplomatic avoidance tactic.
I’m nervous about watching the show, especially while there is still so much hype surrounding it, as, judging from the TV trailers, it will add to my existing concerns about recent mental health discourse in the media.
In particular, I object to the hagiographic tone in which news and other commentary present the contribution of the young royals to this cause.
Like anyone who speaks out on this subject, they are brave, particularly Prince Harry who has shared so personally about his experiences. However it is important to not overstate the case.
If we genuinely are witnessing a sea-change in attitudes (and this remains to be seen) then William, Kate and Harry are arguably riding the wave of this trend as much as they are generating it.
Many other public figures having laid the groundwork, from Stephen Fry and Ruby Wax to Bryony Gordon and the late, great Sally Brampton.
The latter was warned by some that her mental health ‘confession’ in The Daily Telegraph was tantamount to professional suicide. Instead, she forged a new phase in her illustrious journalism career by supporting others with mental health issues via her writing.
Perhaps the royals, due to their uniquely high profile position, are able to raise awareness more broadly than previous pioneers in this field. Of course this contribution is welcome; any opportunity to create greater openness about mental health is welcome.
Yet, unless this is the next publicity event, the Windsors won’t be answering the phone when someone in crisis rings the Mind or Samaritans helpline. Undoubtedly there are going to be a few new units named after one or all of them, but they aren’t the ones funding hospital care or other institutional support. They are not administering the meds or running the sessions or photocopying the worksheets.
As a society we are so quick to hail members of our elites who rightly use their status for good as heroes while at the same time neglecting, or at worst devaluing, those who do the so-called ordinary work.
So I ask, who are our real mental health heroes?