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Addressing the World Economic Council in Davos on January 23rd, Prince William blamed his mother’s generation for inadvertently causing Britain’s mental health crisis. He blamed the attitudes that were necessary during the Second World War. In the stress of war, people were encouraged to say ‘mustn’t grumble’ and keeping a stiff upper lip was a sign of defiance against the Nazis.
Prince William did not say , as seems likely, that the Duke of Edinburgh also encouraged the tendency to avoid therapy which involves the opposite of the stiff upper lip. The Duke had good reason to be sceptical of therapy, because he grew up in a tangle of practitioners.
The Duke’s mother broke down after her husband left her to live on the Riviera. She became convinced that she was often talking to Jesus. Freud was called in, amongst others. She ended up in an asylum. Her young son was shuttled between the Mountbattens and his aunt, Princess Marie Bonaparte, Napoleon’s great grand-niece.
Prince William and his brother endured one of the worst traumas a child could ever have to deal with – the sudden death of their mother when Princess Diana died. Who can forget the young princes walking in her cortege to Westminster Abbey? They must have been totally distraught but they were expected not to show it.
Prince William is much more positive about the value of therapy. He said in Davos that many people shied away from his mental health campaign because they feared the stigma associated with psychiatric problems.
Prince Harry has been even more clear about the perils of the stiff upper lip. Last year he said that he had denied the fact that after his mother’s death he needed help. The tabloids loved it when he behaved badly, though by the historical standards of princes, his bad behaviour was relatively tame.
In his 20s Prince Harry changed. He served in the forces and was in some danger in Afghanistan. His work setting up Help for Heroes for wounded soldiers would have made his mother proud. More remarkably, on the 21stanniversary of her death, he admitted he had resisted seeking help but, finally, came to see he needed it. Forget any tradition of keeping the royal lip stiff. It was brave of him to speak so openly and it has helped make seeking therapy normal.
The full history of the royal family’s involvement with therapy will be told one day. Prince Charles was close to Laurens van der Post who interviewed Jung. Van des Post and Charles in fact relived a trip Jung had made into the heart of Africa in 1926. When Princess Diana suffered eating disorders, he tried to get her to see a Jungian therapist. In the end Diana rebelled and was helped by Susie Orbach who has refused to give the slightest details of what happened between them.
Now there is no doubt that her sons share her belief in the value of seeking help. For the princes, that is a breakthrough.
This post has been submitted by David Cohen.
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