SHOUT, the royal quatuor's latest mental health initiative
Update, September 13th, 2019: As announced, Prince William has officially launched a new campaign with the English Football Association called Heads Up (see article). The campaign will last for the entire duration of the football season and was kicked off with a two-minute video.
If you're in need of help or just want to talk, you can now also text "HeadsUp" to 85258 to chat with a trained crisis volunteer.
End of update
Heads Together is Prince William's, his wife Kate's and Prince Harry's initiative to fight the stigma around and provide actual answers to mental health issues. Since Heads Together was officially launched in 2016, the royals have been at work on various programmes designed to improve mental health in their royal subjects.
All three royals, plus Meghan who's sure to get active soon too, have chosen a specific population on which to focus : himself a member of the population half that's particulary at risk for suicide, Prince William focuses on young men ; Kate takes on the overlooked importance of mental health in children ; and as a military leader, Prince Harry has made it his goal to support military members and veterans who struggle with mental health issues.
SHOUT is only the latest (though probably not last) initiative spearheaded by Heads Together. So what do all those programmes look like exactly?
SHOUT, the UK crisis text line
SHOUT is a free-of-charge and anonymous 24/7 text line for people to reach out to in case of a mental health crisis. It was modeled on the American Crisis Text Line, a service that has proved so useful it has also already been developed in Canada.
It's easy to use: all you have to do is text "Shout" to 85258 -- though of course you have to be in the UK for it to work. You will thus initiate a conversation with a trained counselor, and from then on you'll be supported until you feel better and are back to a non-crisis state. SHOUT will also connect you with local mental health services. You won't be charged for contacting it and the fact that you texted it won't even appear on your phone bill at all.
As well as being able to talk, more of us need to be able to listen, that is why services like SHOUT are so important.
The numbers look rather good already : according to an Instagram post on Prince Harry's and Meghan's official account, in just a year of testing 1,000 volunteers have been recruited and trained, with the hope of doing the same for 3,000 more by the end of 2019. Those volunteers provided support for about 60,000 people in that same timeframe.
The goal here is actually not to bring that number down to zero: it would be impossible, and also not to wish for, to have literally no one in psychological distress ever. Rather, ideally no person would be in such distress that they would have suicidal thoughts, or that it would strongly interfere with their everyday life. Therefore, we should work so that every person going through a rough time, as it happens in life, would have someone (trained) to talk to and be able to get help overcoming a psychological challenge. Which is exactly what SHOUT, and Heads Together more generally, are about : normalizing the conversation around mental health, incorporating healthy coping mechanisms in everyone's education, and responding appropriately when such mental health issues arise.
Mental Health Innovations
SHOUT actually holds a special place amid all the other programmes started by the royal Four to tackle mental health: it is the first child of Mental Health Innovations, a start-up created by the Royal Foundation in 2017 specifically to come up with digital solutions to mental health issues. It is indeed one thing to get people talking about mental health challenges, illnesses, and not being okay -- but it will always fall short of its goal if support and actual solutions aren't available.
Mental Health Innovations, like all the other mental health projects undertaken by our favorite UK royals, is funded by the Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (I'll use Royal Foundation for short, please don't hold it against me). £2 million were allocated to the start-up as it was born. I'll dare say SHOUT seems like a very good start!
Armed Forces Community
Tackling the issue of mental ill-health in the military (including for veterans) is of the utmost importance -- and that fact is generally well-supported in the greater population. The royal brothers, having themselves served a number of years in their country's military forces, have every reason to want to dive right in and have been doing so through an agreement signed with the Ministry of Defence in October 2017.
This isn't just about what to do when one of our friends isn't themselves. It's about what we do to help each other stay mentally and emotionally sharp. [...] It's about providing tools and information that will help everyone in the Defence community to get ahead of some of these problems before they start.
Proving he's right on point, in his official speech at the partnership launching, Prince Harry used the term "mental fitness" to describe what is at the heart of this agreement -- a clear reminder and acknowledgement that the problem with mental illness among soldiers is not Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or anxiety and depression, since for that we'd pretty much need to give up war as a whole, so much as stigma.
The agreement, meant to reinforce and build upon the MOD's current Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy for 2017-2022, encompasses a number of measures. Those mainly consist of providing advice and resources (annual briefings on the matter, dedicated websites, support by specialists, etc.) in order to have the staff better trained to include mental health when designing training programms and briefing processes, and of sharing best practices to ensure standardized mental health and well-being screenings as well as education and training that include and prioritize mental health awareness.
The Invictus Games, an initiative of Prince Harry that first took place in 2014, are another clever way to help veterans overcome the mental health challenges that come with being sent home with a lifelong injury or disability, or with developing PTSD after getting deployed in war zones.
These Games have shone a spotlight on the ‘unconquerable’ character of servicemen and women, their families and the ‘invictus’ spirit.
The next Invictus Games will take place in 2020 in The Hague, Netherlands, from May 9th to May 16th. If you wish to attend or volunteer, you will find all the necessary info on the event's official website.
Mentally Healthy Schools
This is the Duchess of Cambridge's area. As a mother herself, she was bound to be interested in the issue, but she has definitely taken dedication up a notch. With on average 3 kids per 30-child-classroom struggling with a mental health issue in the UK, mental health treatment waiting times easily reaching ten years, and teachers already struggling with over-populated classes and underfunded school programs, there is a very pressing need to address the matter.
The Mentally Healthy Schools website is loaded with trustworthy resources, most of them free of charge, and organized so as not to feel overwhelming to a willing but exhausted teacher.
Though the website targets primary school teachers, a good number of the resources it offers are actually applicable to older children as well, especially where mental health awareness is concerned. And since it also provides guidelines for contacting the appropriate services should a child need professional assessment and treatment, just about every teacher will find something very useful for dealing with mental health issues in the classroom.
The program does not aim to shift the workload from mental health professionals onto schoolteachers -- it is meant as an empowering tool so that teachers don't feel completely at a loss and know who to reach out to in case of difficulties, and so that a better global mental health is achieved for all involved on a daily basis.
The aim is to increase all school staff's awareness, knowledge and confidence to promote general mental wellbeing for all children, and to support those experiencing more severe mental health challenges.
Mentally Healthy Schools is bringing about a much-needed change in the classroom: teachers are to be as equipped to handle mental health issues as they are to handle physiological ones. And that's all anyone is really asking for.
It's becoming an evermore widely-known fact that mental health issues interfere with the productivity of workers. When compassion and human empathy alone aren't enough to motivate employers to ensure their employees' mental wellbeing at the office, the financial cost of the productivity loss is an argument sure to win them over: £35 billion lost annually to UK businesses is a sum not to be overlooked.
Data from the Heads Together campaign showed that the number of people who would feel able to talk to their [Human Resources] departments about their mental health was a mere 2%.
So how should companies address the issue? Well, the Mental Health at Work online portal has just the answer to that: as of today, 230 resources are available for free, covering every possible case a company could find itself in and answering all the practical questions employers could have on how to ensure their offices foster good mental health. You don't even have to sign up for anything!
What's more, on the website you'll also find resources dedicated to self-employed people, such as yours truly. What's not to love about this?!
Supporting Maternal Mental Health
This one is the Duchess of Cambridge's baby (pun intended) and it looks like the logical follow-up project after Mentally Healthy Schools: with the 2016 report by the Centre for Mental Health outlining that most mental health problems start (and can be tackled) at a very young age, Kate decided to address the issue head-on.
There is a very persisting stigma against pregnant women and new or multiple-time mothers who are dealing with mental ill-health. Pregnancy and motherhood are still considered strictly dream-like moments of pure bliss, and anyone struggling with post-partum depression or just general psychological distress is seen as ungrateful at best.
But achieving a society where adults are happy, independent and contributing means we need to raise happy, aware and open-minded children, and for that we need to take care of mothers, most especially those who experience mental distress around maternity. Makes sense, right? Well, we're clearly not there yet but Supporting Maternal Mental Health initiatives are bound to be launched very soon.
This project is set to get going in August 2019, and it's all about kicking the ball of mental health awareness into the public goal. It's yet another occasion to get people educated about the importance of good mental health, but this time the focus is essentially on men, who tend to skip conversations about their emotions and are most hurt by the stigma around mental illness.
Sports is generally a unforgiving space when it comes to mental health challenges, whose sufferers are seen as weak and lacking the will to get better by themselves -- football especially carries terrible prejudices along its game culture. Tackling the world's most played team game is no small endeavor, but it's probably the best place to start.
We are here today to take a big step in shattering this silence. We are going to use one of the most powerful, unifying forces in our society – football – to start the biggest ever conversation on mental health.
People with mental health issues can also find solace and support in team sports, so if the Heads Up campaign has the intended effect, things could be turned around for millions of people -- and once again, the phrase "stronger together" would be a beautiful way to sum it up.
- Thinking about volunteering with SHOUT? Watch Prince William's video and then sign up here
- Want to know how the Royals came up with Heads Together? Watch the video here
- Need some heart-warming stories to remind you that things are on the right track? Watch a series of video testimonies on the Royal Foundation's website