It’s not every week that you get to sit behind Prince William and his good lady and listen to him talk about his latest project but, thanks to my good friend Sarah Stacey and the Guild of Health Writers, that’s what I got to do last week. The occasion was the Guild’s seminar on the Anxiety Epidemic at which Prince William was the star turn. And a very good star turn he proved to be.
The evening had started with a very touching ‘two hander’ from Louise and Ryan. Louise had suffered from very severe anxiety as a student but had found herself unable to talk about it with her boyfriend, Ryan. Eventually, getting close to suicidal, she did get help and learned to open up to Ryan and to talk about her fears and her anxiety. And this need to talk was very much a theme of the evening and of the royal Heads Together initiative.
Because mental health remains for so many a stigma and a taboo subject, those who most need to talk about their fears and their anxieties, rarely do – while those with whom they should be talking are fearful of ‘interfering’ or asking unwelcome questions. As a result it can take someone with mental health issues up to ten years to admit to a problem and talk about it – by which time it has became a far more serious problem than it would have been if it had been addressed early on.
Heads Together started by convening eight mental health charities and asking them what they could do to help. The answer was ‘to normalise mental health’ – to get people comfortable with the subject and talking about it – in the same way as they would talk about cancer or a heart attack. So one of the main aims of the Heads Together charity is to get people to talk. For it to be acceptable both to ask ‘Are you feeling OK?’ and to reply – ‘No, I’m not’ – and then to talk about it. On the charity’s site you can watch short videos of people doing just that – talking about their problems – while the site offers the opportunity to talk to those who feel they have been unable to talk before.
But although Prince William was, of course, the star of the evening, he was absolutely not the only interesting speaker.
We had clinical psychologist Dr Jacqui Marson, author of The Curse of Lovely. She described how the transient anxieties felt by our ancestors when faced with very real, physical dangers have been turned into a remorseless, gnawing, 24/7 anxiety by what she called the ‘tigers in our brains’.
We had Paul Farmer, CEO of Mind and Chair of the Mental Health Task Force in 2015 giving us an update on where the charities are, what they are striving for and how the government can be cajoled into more active involvement in mental health.
We then had the somewhat controversial Dr James Davies, reader in psychotherapy at the University of Roehampton and co founder of the Council for Evidence-based Psychiatry. Dr Davies believes that the current mental health crisis has been brought upon us by psychiatrists who have turned perfectly normal human moods and conditions into ‘mental illnesses’. Worse, they have then conspired with the drug companies to medicate these conditions, often on the basis of very flimsy evidence and at massive expense, leading all too frequently to ‘worse outcomes for many patients, particularly when taken long term’. (ADHD/hyperactivity could be seen as one such: children who, 40 years ago would have been seen as ‘very lively’ are now diagnosed as ADHD and prescribed Ritalin.) For more detail on his charges see his book Cracked: Why psychiatry is doing more harm than good
And finally, Claire Kelly, Director of Training and Content at the Mindfulness in Schools Project talked about how helpful inculcating the principles of mindfulness in young minds can be. However, as she pointed out, training the teachers was a crucial first step as unless the teacher was fully bought into the concept and practice, the children will never be brought on board. For more on mindfulness in schools see this excellent article in the Guardian.
So all in all, a very interesting evening – even if we did have to be there rather early bearing out passports and proof that we did leave where we said we did!! Thank you Sarah and the Guild.
Nota Bene. Following on from this, a friend with whom I had been discussing anxiety has just sent me a link to the excellent article in Curious Mind Magazine – 11 Things People Don’t Realise You Are Doing Because of Your Anxiety. Essential reading for those who suffer from anxiety but even more essential for those who do not but who need to understand the way that anxiety works and how it can destroy people.