Smiles, handshakes, a supportive retinue and a disciplined timetable; all the features of royal duty.
This was no token gesture, no convenient cause to fill the appointments diary.
Prince William spoke at the event about the importance of de-stigmatising mental health issues
They are both committed to using their energy and status to fight an inequality disfiguring British society.
I and Kate believe we need to offer a way of facing up to issues early on
Their aims accord with the Sunday Express Crusade for Better Mental Health, which has challenged the Government and authorities over the past four years to find ways of supporting the one in four of us who will experience a mental health issue in our lifetime.
I was introduced to the Duke, who had requested to meet members of the Guild of Health Writers to urge them to keep mental health issues in the public spotlight.
He said our work was vital to “breaking down the barriers” surrounding mental health. I asked him how important it was to encourage families and friends to speak about mental health and not to shy away from people who may be having difficulties.
Along with Princess Catherine and Prince Harry, Prince William heads up the Heads Together campaign
“It’s absolutely vital,” he said. “We need to get people talking to generate those conversations that make the subject easier to deal with. Families talking to each other is a great way of normalising the conversation.
“We need to smash the stigma around mental health and this is one way to do that.”
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It was a powerful, engaged, response – far from the diplomatic side-step that many politicians and public figures employ when faced with tough topics.
His choice of language was revealing – the phrase “smash the stigma” – peppered our conversation as he clearly sees this as a battle needing an abrasive approach.
“I and Kate believe early intervention is key,” he continued. “We need to offer a way of facing up to issues early on.”
He added that it was also important to have a light touch around bringing mental health into mainstream family life so conversations are natural rather than forced.
His aim is for parity of esteem between physical and mental health in both society and the health service.
Creating that climate will take time and, as the Sunday Express has long advocated, intelligently-targeted resources need to be provided so that people who experience mental health issues can be helped way before critical crisis.
The royal family want parity between treatment of mental and physical health in Britain
The Duke said he hoped that ensuring mental health was a public talking point would construct the “stepping stones” to more funding and a more solid support structure.
“The work you guys do is important,” he added. “Health journalists have a major role to play.”
William urged more public figures to become involved, praising ITN newsreader Mark Austin for revealing his heartbreak over his 22-year-old daughter Maddy’s struggle with anorexia.
She is on the road to recovery but Austin’s moving piece called for greater funding to ward off a mental health “epidemic” in the UK.
Kate, Duchess of Cambridge in pictures Mon, February 6, 2017
Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, life in pictures; including royal visits around the world and her most stunning outfits.
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The Duchess of Cambridge arrives at London Primary school
“That was very courageous of him and we need more people like Mark to speak up,” the Duke added.
He said his passion to make a difference in mental health came from meeting vulnerable young people: “It was their openness about their mental health, their anxiety issues, their honesty about not coping, that made me realise that poor mental health was a major issue in our society.”
The Prince was also profoundly affected by dealing with suicides while working as an air ambulance pilot.
The Duchess saw the heartache from her work with children and young families, while Harry was energised by his work with Forces’ veterans.
The royals have attended several events encouraging other public figures to become more involved
William added that “their conclusions were the same – that mental health needed to be brought out of the dark and de-stigmatised”.
The Royal trio formed Heads Together, a coalition of eight charities covering mental health from children to adulthood.
Chris Martin, chief executive of The Mix, which offers a range of support for under 25s, said that William, Catherine and Harry were deeply committed to creating improvement across mental health.
“They have come to it via different routes but, because of their unique experiences in public life and meeting so many different people, they are in a very good position to do something,” he said.
The Duke addressed the crowd and praised the work of health journalists in raising awareness
“They are engaged and eager to work with people to make a difference. They recognise the importance of journalism and campaigns such as the Sunday Express Crusade for Better Mental Health have had a huge impact in tackling stigma.
“When the Sunday Express writes that it is OK to be not-OK, it gives people the courage to take the next step. Often young people feel isolated and are not aware that they can speak to someone who can help so it is really important to keep this work going.”
The royal couple stayed for almost two hours at the event, organised by the Guild of Health Writers, where Heads Together partner charities also talked about their work.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, praised and thanked the Sunday Express for its enduring work in the field, saying: “What you write has impact and people do take notice.”
The royal couple stayed for two hours at the even organised by the Guild of Health Writers
Sarah Stacey, co-chairwoman of the Guild of Health Writers, added: “The Duke and Duchess were keen to meet key health journalists and hear their views. They are passionate about reducing the stigma of mental health and getting people talking. The Guild fully supports the aims of Heads Together and we will promote the campaign in every way we can.”
The pathway to better mental health is strewn with barriers, not least chronic under-funding in a turbulent NHS, but the Sunday Express Crusade for Better Mental Health will continue.
Its first four years have helped change the landscape at work and at home but it will take the combined forces of all charities, organisations and grass roots supporters to end stigma and build a fairer society.
The heartfelt calls from William, Catherine and Harry are now part of the millions of voices for change.