Let’s talk openly about mental health

DR YANSIE ROLSTON Monday, April 24 2017

THE international media went into a frenzy last Tuesday following candid mental health interviews by the Royal Highnesses – Prince Harry and Prince William. Prince Harry’s chaotic behaviour during his teen years and early 20’s is well known, and he provided a remarkable insight into the mental anguish which caused some of that chaos.

The interviews by the Royal Highnesses were graciously received and praised by mental health advocates and experts, including the president of the Royal College of Psychiatrist – Sir Simon Wessely, who said that Prince Harry has done more in raising awareness of mental health in 25 minutes than he had been able to do in his own 25 year career.

Prince William in his public facetime chat with pop star Lady Gaga, discussed mental health, addiction, and “the importance of breaking open that fear and that taboo.” He also pledged to ensure that his children would “grow up feeling able to talk about their emotions.” It is evident that attitudes are changing globally with increasing numbers of high profile public figures speaking out about their mental health struggles. In the last few weeks we have seen documentaries highlighting the mental health battles of former international cricketer Freddie Flintoff, former professional footballer Rio Ferdinand, and grime artist/ MOBO award winner/actor – Stormzy.

They have shared with brutal honesty the intimate details of coping with the pain, misery and isolation of depression, and even though their vulnerability was not something they initially wanted the world to know about, sharing their stories has been a catalyst in their recovery.

This new-found frankness by international public figures is excellent as it deflects negative judgements, encourages self-reflection and promotes empowerment.

Nonetheless, let us not be fooled into thinking that tackling the mental health agenda is going to be plain sailing from now on.

There are still cultural specificities at play when it comes to breaking the taboo.

In the UK, the discomfort and silence is mainly due to the ‘stiff upper lip’ tradition, while in Trinidad and Tobago it is the deep seated cultural prejudices which makes public disclosures problematic.

The fact of the matter is that everyone goes through emotionally tough times, one in four people will be affected by mental ill health at some point in their life, and mental health and its struggles lie at the heart of some of our deepest social challenges.

Hence, apathy is not an option.

Ultimately, there is a desperate need for compassionate and understanding conversations which destigmatises the characteristics of mental and emotional health. The type of conversations that addresses the topic in the context of physiological well-being, that explains the link between the mind and the body, encourages self-revelation and asking for help when needed.

As Prince William said “we need to make mental health normal, we need to treat it the same way we treat physical health, it has to be seen in the same way”.

Paul Farmer, CEO of the mental health charity MIND said “every time someone in the public eye speaks up we know that it encourages ordinary members of the public to do the same”. A point echoed by Prince William when he says “it is time everyone speaks up…the more we have influential and very important people speaking about their issues and their battles, the better”.

Prince William also said “this is a pivotal moment in the change of mental health” a sentiment shared by Poppy Jaman – chief executive of Mental Health First Aid England who predicts “a wave of change coming in mental health”. Wouldn’t it be great to see similar changes in TT ? With that in mind, I’m taking this opportunity to send out a challenge to any soca star or member of soca royalty – Be a trailblazer, step forward, share your story. Give your voice to raising awareness of mental health in Trinidad and Tobago and the wider Caribbean region. Use your high profile status to promote and influence positive pathways to social, cultural and behavioural change in order to improve well-being, reduce unnecessary suffering, and save lives. #Let’sTalk Dr Yansie Rolston FRSA is a UK based disability and mental health specialist advisor.

She is a social strategist and trainer who works internationally at various levels of government, business and civil society.

Contact her at yr@efficacyeva.com

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