Sitting in a Nottingham lecture theatre several years ago, I was one of a number of students asked to give an opinion on the prominence of counselling and the openness of the general public towards matters of mental health in the United Kingdom. Having listened to several responses, largely negative, I offered an opinion to the course leader detailing my belief that counselling is an up and coming profession, with an increasing importance in our culture.
Having been invited to expand on my thoughts, I remarked that every time a celebrity, sportsperson or anyone in the public eye discusses the subject of mental health, mentioning that they have benefitted from counselling, its prominence would increase. I followed this up by stating that I believed at some point the floodgates would open and it would be commonplace for this subject to be discussed more openly.
In our world today, with the advent of social media, the cult of the celebrity is bigger than ever. It can often be said that where celebrities lead the public will follow, hence the large sums of money earned by such people with product endorsements. Inadvertently, counselling may be benefitting from this trend, and the bravery of some public figures in opening up on their mental health struggles and subsequent recoveries has aided in bringing the profession further towards the forefront of the public consciousness.
Ricky Hatton, a former world championship boxer, was one of the first public figures to bring the subject to my attention. I found his openness in discussing his battle with depression and near suicide truly inspirational, challenging the stigma around discussing these subjects, particularly for men. I believe that someone from a profession such as this, with all of its ‘hard man’ stereotypes and macho attitudes discussing his struggle with mental health, and his preparedness to seek out help, can go a long way to reducing the perceived stigma in this area for men in particular, and encourage them to talk about, and access professional help for, their own issues.
Prince Harry has illustrated the change in attitudes towards counselling and the way one is ‘expected’ to deal with mental health challenges (in his case grieving following his loss of his mother in 1997). He was aged twelve, expected to follow the coffin, at possibly the most high profile funeral in recent history, displaying the traditional British ‘stiff upper lip’. Times seem to be changing, as does the attitude of the Royal Family towards mental health. Harry has highlighted this by recently opening up about his own mental health issues; how counselling has helped him to come to terms with these events and the effect they have had on him, in the hope of inspiring others.
Further to this, Prince Harry, along with his brother and sister-in-law, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have launched a mental health campaign known as ‘Heads Together’, a coalition of eight mental health charities, the aim being “to try to push stigma about discussing mental health beyond what they believe is a “tipping point” and into public acceptability”. They have enlisted other public figures such as ex England cricket captain Andrew Flintoff, and former Labour spin-doctor Alastair Campbell, who have made short films detailing their experiences of mental health difficulties.
I believe, more than ever, that the landscape is changing. In the future, we may be able to look at these events as something of a watershed moment concerning the nation’s attitude towards discussing mental health. I have, in this blog, only scratched the surface of the number of prominent figures publically discussing the subject. With so many such people being prepared to stand up and be counted on this issue, the stigma surrounding it can be reduced, a visit to see a counsellor could become as easy to discuss with a friend as a dental appointment. Why shouldn’t it be? If this can be the case, and we have a more open, honest and less stigmatised view of mental health throughout our nation, we, as a general public will owe a debt of gratitude to these brave, influential people.
Please see the below links to some of the articles on the topics mentioned in this blog: