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Mental Health - the celebrity factor

Tagged In:  Mental Health

Many high-profile figures, from royals to pop stars, have been talking openly about mental health issues. Does it really make a difference for celebrities to speak out? And is there are downside?

When Princes William and Harry recently spoke candidly about mental health issues, there were a few people who reacted negatively (including the ever-controversial columnist Katie Hopkins).  However, in general the reaction was extremely positive, with charities, psychiatrists, doctors, mental health nurses and politicians all hailing the move as a major step forward in tackling the stigma associated with mental health issues.

"This is a defining moment for mental health," said Mind Chief Executive Paul Farmer. "To have the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry, along with the Duchess of Cambridge, speak openly about how the loss of their mother affected their mental health shows how far we've come in changing public attitudes and perceptions... We know this has had a huge impact... every time someone in the public eye speaks up we know it encourages members of the public to do the same."

The Heads Together campaign launched by the princes and the Duchess of Cambridge is certainly one of the most high-profile celebrity-led mental health initiatives of our age. However, several other A-listers have also recently 'come out' about their struggles with mental health and extolling the benefits of seeking professional help, including Lady Gaga, Ben Affleck, Catherine Zeta Jones and David Walliams.

Some celebrities who have had mental health issues themselves have also taken on more formal roles. For example, actor, writer and presenter Stephen Fry is President of the mental health charity Mind, with comedian Ruby Wax and journalist and broadcaster Alastair Campbell working as the charity's 'ambassadors'.

The effects of celebrities talking about mental health issues are tangible. In the week following the interview with Prince Harry, Mind reported an increase of almost 40% in calls and The Mix, which provides support for under 25s, saw a 43% jump in people using their online services.

There are concerns about whether the NHS can cope with a significant rise in demand for mental health services. Research by Community Care, published in March 2015, found that funding for NHS mental health trusts dropped by 8% in real terms over the course of the previous parliament. Despite £1 billion of extra funding being announced by the Government in January 2016, many areas of mental health care are struggling to cope with unprecedented demand.

Prime Minister Theresa May recently announced plans for a major overhaul of mental health policy and pledged to hire 10,000 more doctors, nurses and support workers for NHS mental health services by 2020, if the Conservatives are re-elected on 8 June. However, Majorie Wallace, Chief Executive of mental health charity Sane, sounded a note of caution: "In order for Theresa May's ambitious vision for mental health reform to be realised, we need to guarantee that alongside the measures proposed, resources are placed in frontline services."
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