Why Prince Harry speaking out about trauma can help with mental health stigma

2Many of the children and youth we serve have experienced great losses in their lives. For a child, the ultimate loss would be that of a parent, whether through death or because substance or alcohol use has resulted in their parent being absent and, in some instance, lost to the child. The trauma that results from such a loss was addressed very poignantly this week as Britain’s Prince Harry spoke for the first time in public about the impact of repressing his emotions after the tragic death of his mother and the chaos that characterized his life until he was able to seek mental health treatment. Such candor, especially on the part of a public figure, helps to dispel the stigma associated with mental illness and reassures all those who experience bouts of it that treatment can ease the pain and provide some hope for the restoration of well-being.

This very public exposure came the same week that we received news of a former resident who is experiencing a very chaotic and challenging period post-treatment with us. He, too, has lost his mother very tragically and in spite of our attempts to address this profound loss, was very resolute in his denial and now is experiencing great turmoil. Trauma is a reality for all of us and failure to address it can be devastating, so treatment is essential. For this former resident we can only encourage him to seek out some treatment and to reassure him in the process.

Like any physical malady, mental illness must be addressed. Would we ignore a persistent pain or refuse any treatment that would bring about relief and healing? The same is true for mental illness. It will persist until treated and the longer care is delayed, the greater the likelihood that the condition will worsen and threaten health and well-being. We often think of mental illness as a persistent and chronic condition, and although this may be the case, it is just as likely to be episodic, rooted in a particular trauma. Regardless, mental illness is treatable and need not be considered a fate to fear.

Prince Harry’s candor has created a moment when we can all recognize the impact that mental health has on our lives and encourage those who struggle with mental illness to seek out treatment, confident of the support of family, friends and community. His revelations and that of other public figures like former Congressman Patrick Kennedy come at a time when access to mental health treatment is threatened by ongoing efforts to replace the Affordable Care Act, which increased significantly the availability of care for those with mental illness.

Mental illness is the greatest disorder that goes untreated not only because of the stigma associated with it but because of the lack of access to care. Hopefully the discussion generated this week because of the attention the Royal Family has brought to this issue will help us be more aware of the impact that mental illness has on each of us and our society and help to thwart any efforts to diminish access to care for such a treatable illness.

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