By: Chris Reed

Over a cuppa and cake in a quintessentially Kiwi cafe, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex pushed one of the last taboos further into the global spotlight.

Mental health, specifically the need for people to feel comfortable talking about it and asking for help, was the focus of their visit to the Maranui Café – a jaunty Wellington institution above the surf lifesaving club in Lyall Bay.

There, Prince Harry and Meghan met three tables of young people from organisations such as Voices of Hope, Key to Life, Lifeline and the national 1737 helpline service.

Their interest and Harry’s willingness to talk about his own battles will have had a significant and swift impact, according to one guest.

“Today I guarantee that lives were saved,” said Jazz Thornton, co-founder of Voices of Hope, a group promoting mental wellbeing, empowerment and recovery.

“It means that people begin to realise that mental health doesn’t discriminate, that it doesn’t matter if you’re the Prince, or if you are a student or if you are a male or a female – everyone has mental health and anyone can struggle with it.”

Mental health has been one of the Prince’s signature issues since he gave an extraordinarily frank interview to the UK Daily Telegraph last year.

Now 34, he revealed he sought counselling after two years of “total chaos” in his late 20s while still struggling with the aftermath of the death of his mother, Princess Diana.

Encouraged to ask for professional help by his brother, Prince William, Harry had reached “a good place”.

he brothers, and William’s wife Kate, now run Heads Together, an initiative aiming to tackle the stigma around mental health and raise money for new services.

The subject was a key part of his final speech on the Australian leg of their tour.

He told the closing ceremony of the Invictus Games for wounded, sick or injured armed services personnel that mental wellbeing was more important than physical fitness because “without it, we cannot survive, let alone thrive”.

No one at Maranui was in any doubt of the couple’s sincerity.

“They’re so genuine and so down to earth and so passionate,” said Thornton.

“Knowing they’re not just people who will say one thing on camera and then act a different way … what they present is who they are and I love that so much.”

While Harry drove the discussion, his wife expressed surprise when Thornton’s co-founder Genevieve Mora said some in New Zealand consider people who ask for help to be attention-seeking.

“Meghan was really shocked to hear that,” said Thornton.

Also shocking – that the total number of suicides in New Zealand has risen four years in a row. The rate among 15 to 19-year-olds is the highest in the developed world.

Lifeline clinical manager Renee Mathews, who was on the same table as the Voices of Hope duo, said the Prince didn’t make too much reference to the scale of the problem in New Zealand.

“But he did say he was speaking to the PM about it yesterday , about how it’s a huge issue now and it needs to be addressed so he’s obviously got some background knowledge.”

At her post-Cabinet press conference today Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said mental health was among issues she discussed with the couple last night.

“I came away being even more certain that they are very, very genuine in their passion for this area and are very focused on it.”

Ezekiel Raui, youth development director with the Key to Life Trust, was meeting the couple for the second time in five months.

Flown to London as part of the Queen’s Young Leaders initiative, he saw them at Buckingham Palace in June.

Unfortunately there was not enough collaboration in the mental health sector, Raui said, in part because the path to government funding pitted “genuine people against each other”.

But today’s meeting had highlighted the need for better communication.

“Based on my discussions with everyone’s who attended … we’re not necessarily going to wait for a government organisation or other organisation to say this is what we’re doing. Between the young people we’ve decided that we’re going to catch up and we’re going to make it happen.”

Raui was part of the third and final group to meet the royals.

Summing up, Harry backed Raui’s call for intergenerational change. He said there was no “silver bullet” to improving mental health “and I think people need to understand that”.

With that, the couple rose. There was time to pose for photos and receive some gifts.

From Lifeline a bag and baby outfit celebrating the organisation’s “72 Club” campaign – a twist on the so-called 27 Club which reflects the large number of musicians who took their lives at that age. From the café, a box containing a T-shirt and book about the building’s long history.

As they turned to leave, Meghan, by then wearing a badge promoting the 1737 helpline beside the poppy on her Club Monaco coat, addressed the group: “You’re all doing really excellent work,” before starting a round of applause.

Then Harry placed his right hand affectionately on his wife’s shoulder and they were gone.

“In all honesty, I love the fact that the royals have engaged with us where we’re most comfortable,” said Raui. “In a café where most conversations start and their ability to make us feel, me in particular, make me feel like I’m an individual and I can be confident is absolutely amazing.”

Source: NZ Herald

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