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The royal wedding maps a road to mental health

May 18, 2018

Sigmund Freud is renowned for making the statement, “Dreams are the royal road to the unconscious.” That is, when you examine your own dreams or the dreams of patients, you can discover important beliefs and feelings that are not in your everyday consciousness. Sometimes, these unconscious matters are the key to resolving conflicts or trauma.

Could it be that there is also a different kind of royal road to mental health? If you have paid any attention to the forthcoming royal wedding in England, you’ll see that like many heavily covered public events, it is revealing several important mental healthcare messages.

Here is some of what we clinicians, our patients, and the public might learn from wedding coverage.

1. Get treatment early

Sometime after he began dating Meghan Markle, Prince Harry publicly revealed his psychological struggles and ensuing treatment. For about 20 years, he reported burying his emotions after the sudden death of his mother when he was 12.

While this may have been an individual decision of his, he did fit the British historical cultural norm of keeping a stiff upper lip when trouble is around. During that time, he was thought to be somewhat of a “wild” young man who couldn’t quite settle down. His brother recommended treatment, which he engaged in successfully, and then became a champion for mental healthcare with the Royal Foundation Heads Together Program. The message is that treatment works, without the need to suffer for 20 years.

2. Self-disclosure is helpful

Prince Harry has been a model of self-disclosure over the past year or so. Such self-disclosure seems to often be helpful in reducing societal stigma about having mental illness. It can also provide some relief to the discloser as long as their are no bad repercussions from others. Paradoxically, it appears that those of us in mental healthcare are even more reluctant to reveal our own personal psychological concerns, as is becoming clearer from the recent concern about burnout, depression, and suicide.

3. Relationships have power

It appears that the relationship between Harry and Meghan has been helpful to each so far. In mental healthcare, the relationship of the clinician and the patient is paramount, the most important variable in treatment. Parallel to that, the caring and compassionate relationship of the administrator to clinicians, or bosses to employees, is essential to avoid burnout and build the trust for self-disclosure.

4. Celebrity fascination has limits

Feeling a part of public events, ranging from sports to royal weddings, can enhance a sense of social belonging, which is one of the levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of psychological needs. On the other hand, becoming obsessed with such events can be harmful for other relationships and the development of one’s own personal identity, thereby often calling for treatment.

5. Good enough parenting makes a difference

It appears that Meghan has a good relationship with her mother—a psychiatric social worker—who may add to her resilience. Both women have had divorces, for example. Perhaps her mother’s career also inspired Meghan to be concerned with social causes.

6. Cultural boundaries can be crossed

Meghan is a child of  Black and Caucasian parents. She is also American. Both of these racial and ethnic attributes are unusual in a royal wedding, so this may provide a model for cross-cultural respect, value and cooperation.

Any of these matters, and more, could be used to formally discuss mental healthcare issues with staff, patients, and for public education. Informally, just asking, “What did you think about the royal wedding?” can be a royal road to have a productive mental health conversation.

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