24 Jan 2019

Jacinda Ardern and Prince William open up on mental health on world stage

11:22 am on 24 January 2019

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has used the world stage to discuss mental health and suicide in New Zealand and Prince William spoke about the daily trauma of his job.

Ms Ardern spoke at the Mental Health Matters panel at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, alongside the Duke of Cambridge, Prince William.

It's estimated that one in four people will experience mental illness in their lives, costing the global economy an estimated $US6 trillion by 2030.

A new report published by the forum shows anxiety disorders officially afflict 4 percent of the global population - and beats depression, alcoholism, drug use, and other disorders in the list of mental health problems.

Ms Ardern told the panel how the problem hits home for everyone and that last year there were more than 600 suicides in New Zealand.

"Unfortunately, one of the sad facts for New Zealand is that everyone knows some one who has taken their own life. Of course that's only one marker of wellbeing ... and so for us this is something that effects everyone," she said.

"For me, the issue of mental health is deeply personal. I've lost friends and I wouldn't have to look far in my cabinet to find others who have as well."

She said programmes and initiatives were important in tackling the stigma around mental health, but it was the conversations that mattered the most.

She referred to New Zealand sportsperson John Kirwan and Prince William's efforts in helping people to reach out for help and speak out.

"One of very famous rugby players in New Zealand became part of a campaign talking very openly about mental health issues and that, I think, in some ways was quite ground-breaking, and was the start of some of those conversations.

"But not just at a national level, but personalising it. I do want to pay tribute to His Royal Highness, I just don't think you can underestimate the power on an international level of you having spoken so openly, it's had the affect on a global stage of a rugby player on a domestic stage has had."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern listens as Prince William speaks while taking part in the Mental Health Matters panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern listens as Prince William speaks while taking part in the Mental Health Matters panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Photo: AP Photo/Markus Schreiber

She said to have someone on such a high-profile level talk about their feelings and thoughts made it easier for others to step forward too and changed attitudes in society.

However, Ms Ardern said having conversations did not mean the mental health stigma was wiped out.

"The fact we talk about it doesn't mean the stigma is gone, doesn't mean that we have that conversation on a national level and it just still doesn't carry stigma on an individual level."

Prince William also spoke of the "stiff upper lip" mentality in British culture, in which people learned to suppress emotional difficulties.

"British people particularly, we're very embarrassed about our emotions," he said.

"I take it back as far as the war ... a whole generation just decided this [not talking about problems] was the best way of dealing with it. They then, completely by accident, passed that on to the next generation ... so a whole generation inherited that this was the way you deal with problems - you don't talk about them."

Prince William said that there were many people who still suffered in silence due to the stigma of having a mental illness, but there was a generational shift occurring.

He described how they struggled to rally support for his Heads Together mental health movement two years ago.

"What was very interesting when we set up the campaign was that not one celebrity wanted to join us, not one person wanted to be involved in the mental health campaign."

However, more people came forward once they realised that the royals, who usually did not disclose private matters, were putting themselves and their stories out in the open.

"We felt that if we could tackle the stigma that would allow charities to do their work and allow people to come forwards.

"It's like a boil bubbling away, you need to lance it, and let the stuff out, let people express what they need to express."

Prince Harry and his wife Meghan meet with representatives of mental health projects at Maranui cafe in Wellington.

The Duke of Cambridge's brother, Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex visited Wellington last year where they met with mental health advocates. Photo: AFP / Pool

The Duke of Cambridge also described how the distressing nature of his work as an air ambulance pilot prompted his own mental health difficulties.

"You have a suit of armour on, you deal with the job everyday, you deal with children being very sick, elderly people, whatever it might be but something in the day comes along that's closely related to your own life and it really takes you over a line," he said. "It's only natural, your human.

"I was dealing with a lot of trauma on a day-in and day-out basis. Stuff that your body is not programmed to deal with and that's why I feel such empathy and solidarity with the medical community.

"I still find it very difficult to talk about it. I get very emotional about it because it relates very closely to my children so it's very, very hard to talk about. I don't think you ever get over it, because you go through someone else's pain and you live with it.

"I just felt that the most important thing was understanding and realising it was there."

Ms Ardern also spoke of the importance of early intervention, and of recognising the cross-over between mental health issues, addictions and domestic violence.

She said there was also a broader shift to focusing on well-being rather than economic success alone. She expanded on these thoughts in another panel she joined at the forum called More than GDP.

This is the second day for the prime minister at the forum. Yesterday she was on a panel with Sir David Attenborough, discussing climate change and the action that needed to be taken.

Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7) or text 4202

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz

What's Up: online chat (3pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 helpline (12pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-11pm weekends)

Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)

Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

GDP panel: 'This is not woolly, it's critical' - Ardern

Ms Ardern said most politicians wanted to increase the well-being of their people, not boost GDP.

"It's not our driving force, actually most politicians regardless of where they are on the spectrum, you can distil it down to some form of increasing the wellbeing of their people.

"But actually I think the importance of addressing this gap that we have in measuring success and broadening out what success is actually gets to the heart of politics in our political crisis."

In the solution to addressing the problem, she said she wanted to broaden what was being measured to beyond productivity and spending.

"We start broadening out the things we hold ourselves to account on," she said.

"Power and economy tracking absolutely matters ... people look at us and go 'you're doing okay' but we have homelessness at staggering rates, one of the highest rates of youth suicide in the OECD.

"Our mental health and wellbeing is not what it should be.

"We need to address the societal wellbeing of our nation, not just the economic wellbeing."

She said well-being had to be at the centre of policy-making: "Our people are telling us that politics are not delivering and meeting their expectations. This is not woolly, it's critical."

She also discussed her government's upcoming Wellbeing Budget which would gauge the long-term impact of policy on the quality of people's lives.

"We're fundamentally changing the way that we do policy-making to make sure that we deliver on wellbeing not just economic success."

The government's 2018 Budget states: "The Wellbeing Budget will broaden the Budget's focus beyond economic and fiscal policy by using the Treasury's Living Standards Framework to inform the Government's investment priorities and funding decisions. The Government will measure and report against a broader set of indicators to show a more rounded measure of success, as a country and as a Government."

The onus will be on ministers to show how spending proposals would benefit people, Ms Ardern said.

She said ministers had to also work with other ministers to deliver interventions that would work in 20 years' time.

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