Prince Harry attended the Veterans’ Mental Health Conference at King’s College London today, where he delivered a key note address and led a panel discussion on the topic.
The event was organised by King’s Centre for Military Health Research (KCMHR) and sponsored by the Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT); the annual event gathers leading experts to discuss international perspectives on mental health in the Armed Forces.
Harry joined the conference as part of the Heads Together campaign, which seeks to change the conversation on mental health, which he leads with The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. The programme includes Contact, the military community mental health coalition, which he helped launch back in October.
The former-army captain opened the event by leading a panel discussion with three former members of the UK and US Armed Forces: Caroline Buckle, Ivan Castro and Philip Eaglesham. During the group discussion the veterans each spoke about their personal experiences of addressing and managing mental health challenges, and the importance of the Armed Forces community working together to encourage an open attitude about mental health.
During his address, the Prince revealed that he and fiancé Meghan Markle had made a private visit to veterans at Colchester Garrison; speaking to ex-service men and women had left them both “shocked to the core” by the stories shared with them.
Harry, who served as an army officer for 10 years, also said he witnessed the suffering of those around him struggling to get help.
The Royal served two tours of Afghanistan – first as a forward air controller, then as an Apache pilot – and went on to support the rehabilitation of wounded veterans and serving personnel most notably through the Invictus Games. He said: “I have seen those I have served with suffer, struggling to seek out the help they desperately need. And we know there are more just like them who continue to suffer in silence.
“And when the individual doesn’t or can’t reach out for help, it is also their families who suffer; especially their spouses and children, who are left feeling desperate and confused as they try to seek appropriate help for the ones they love.”
He added: “Some of the stories Meghan and I heard when we visited Colchester Garrison a few weeks ago shocked us to our core. But despite meeting these people and others who are in the darkest of places, I am continually surrounded and inspired by amazingly positive outcomes.”
Harry and Meghan have been making a series of private visits to organisations and charities to better understand some of the issues in the UK.
Harry said through his charitable support of veterans and the Invictus Games, he had been “privileged to witness the journey that many men and women have taken – from desperation and isolation, to amazing achievements, regaining self-worth, and finding community once more”.
He urged the medical professionals, charity workers and other groups to help veterans in need of support “by sharing best practice, sharing resources, and helping each other to improve access”.
“In spite of this progress, accessing help is still a confusing marketplace. The veterans should always be our number one concern, allowing us to put aside our individual brands or publicity, for their sake,” Harry said.
The soon-to-be married Prince went on to try and dispel the “misconception” that mental health is the main issue veterans face with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) the lead problem, with secondary effects of extensive substance misuse, unemployment and homelessness.
“The assumption is that 90% of veterans have mental illness from service – this simply isn’t true – research by King’s [College London] puts it at 10%. Phrases like ‘ticking time-bomb’ fuel this misconception and are incredibly unhelpful. More people are accessing help now than ever before, which clearly states that we must be doing something right by reducing the stigma. But of course we still have a lot of work to do.
“PTSD as far as I see it is shorthand for mental illness in the Armed Forces – it’s just too simple. What I mean by that is it’s not always the right diagnosis for everyone. Most who face issues will experience common conditions like depression, anxiety and adjustment disorders… my main fear is that people will not get the appropriate help due to the stigma surrounding the more common conditions.”
Today Prince Harry spoke at the Veterans’ Mental Health Conference about his experience in the Army, saying that military service was enriching and good for society #vmhc2018 pic.twitter.com/jcv2505TfB
— Kensington Palace (@KensingtonRoyal) March 15, 2018
His Royal Highness added: “We need to improve the conversation. We all have mental health, in the same way that we all have physical health. We worry about our physical fitness probably now more than we ever have before – but our mental fitness is just as important.”
The Royal continued: “In reality, just 2.4% of those people leaving the forces in the last three years were medically discharged because of mental health, and just 0.9% because of post traumatic stress.
“As a recent Kings’ study shows us, the proportion of veterans diagnosed with post traumatic stress is very similar to the general population – with just 1.6% separating them.”
He told the conference that veterans were a valuable resource: “Military service is enriching and good for society. Our experiences show that employers value veterans and we want to push that message that they are incredible assets to any business.
“Any employer would be lucky to have them as part of your team – and that’s a fact.
“Serving your country makes you a better person for your family, community and country; increased confidence, discipline, teamwork, loyalty, and the ability to realise huge potential in yourself.”
Talking about @heads_together Prince Harry said it was time to treat mental fitness as important as physical fitness, and that @EndeavourFund and @WeAreInvictus prove that with the right recovery and support people transition from terrible situations to conquer great challenges pic.twitter.com/jy9EoIX8qg
— Kensington Palace (@KensingtonRoyal) March 15, 2018
This year’s KCMHR conference focused on issues ranging from the use of peers to improve treatment-seeking and the mental health of and support for service families, to whether veterans’ mental health care should be part of mainstream services.
Neil Greenberg, Professor of Defence Mental Health at King’s College London, said: “We set up this annual conference three years ago in order to provide high quality evidence and informed debate at a reasonable cost for those interested in this important topic.
“We were delighted to welcome Prince Harry to the conference this year as well as a range of other excellent speakers. Once again the event was completely sold out, which highlights how much interest there is in understanding ‘what the truth is’ in what can sometimes be a rather poorly understood subject.
“We are highly appreciative that the Forces in Mind Trust agreed to sponsor the event again and the whole of the King’s Centre for Military Health Research team remains proud of the work we do to improve the lives of service personnel, serving or retired, and their families.”
Ray Lock, Chief Executive of the Forces in Mind Trust, said: “We are delighted that Prince Harry attended and participated in this year’s Veterans’ Mental Health Conference, and welcome the ‘Heads Together’ campaign’s contribution to tackling the stigma surrounding mental health. Overcoming stigma and preconceived negative ideas about mental health is a vital element we must overcome if we are to succeed in improving veterans’ mental well-being. We are once again proud to have been sole sponsor of this important knowledge sharing and networking event.”