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  • Writer's pictureTom Robinson

Prince Philip: how deaths of public figures can affect the mental health of others

Updated: Jan 29, 2022

It’s been such a beautiful spring weekend and I’ve spent so much of it outside reaping the benefits of vitamin D and fresh air.

Not once have I forgotten though, the millions of people out there suffering with mental illnesses, who won’t have been able to appreciate or enjoy any of it at all.

I was reminded of this when I spoke to a fellow sufferer yesterday who is still in recovery and having a really hard time with mixed state bipolar disorder.

I really hope that I have given him some reassurance because he is going through the same treatment as I did and I know he’ll get there eventually, it’s just harder when you’ve been through as much turmoil as we both have.

We have both had to withstand not just the brutal nature of the illness itself but the failed medications (which often worsen things), and that makes the problem so much more complicated and difficult to treat.

This is why I’m so passionate about getting this treatment out there and noticed by the medical professionals (they are annoyingly not in agreement), because I want the 20-year old ‘Tom’s’ who are experiencing their first symptoms, to get this medical care immediately so that they can avoid all the destruction and missed opportunities that I have.

I am so concerned for other sufferers because I know how unbelievably difficult (and often life-threatening) living with mental illness can be, but at the same time I am having to try to move forward because I know it is important for my own mental health.

It’s a difficult balance to strike but I know I can’t move away from the issue until I have at least documented my experience and tried to help everyone else.

Anyway, only time will tell as to whether I can get noticed and make a difference I suppose!

As well as helping others, I have finally been able to enjoy the lovely spring weather for once, and have been taking my own advice by walking for miles in nature and also engaging in my new passion for gardening!

Having been banging on recently about flowers and their positive impact on mental well-being, I decided to go to the garden centre on Saturday and buy some seeds and am going to try to grow some myself!

I have no idea where this interest in gardening has suddenly come from. I’ve woken up from this bipolar nightmare and now I’m interested in all sorts of things that I was never bothered about before which is weird - but also wonderful in equal measure!

I have been really enjoying the journey back to full mental wellness and self discovery over the recent months and now I have so many renewed and newfound interests, hobbies and passions that I am engaging in daily.

In between gardening, cottage clearance, French and walking, I also watched the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral on Saturday, and have been interested to learn about his life through the many recent articles and television coverage.

I was keen to know which mental health charities the Duke of Edinburgh supported because I know that his mother suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, but I couldn’t find any mention him being involved with mental health at all.

I’m not wholly surprised by this because schizophrenia and other mental illnesses are surrounded by stigma even today, so I can’t imagine what it was like when his mother was incarcerated in 1930.

Although other royals have started talking about mental ‘health’ they still aren’t discussing mental illness which is the same with almost everyone in the media. I don’t think people know how to tackle it which is why I know it’s important that I try to enlighten people through my own experience.

I felt especially sad for the Queen on Saturday, who cut such a lonely figure, sitting so alone because of the Coronavirus restrictions. She has had to bury her father, mother, sister and now her husband just like my grandmother has, and it must be so hard to go on living when your immediate family leaves you behind.

I was thinking about the psychological impact that grief and loss must have on people as they get older and saw an article on the BBC news page which discussed the effects that the death of a public figure can have, not just on relatives and relations, but also on others too.

I have to say that I did find a lot of the interviews with people and the coverage a bit over the top, especially as so many were being so overly personal and portentous when some of them never even knew the Duke at all!

But after reading the article I realise that deaths of public figures can affect people personally because the loss can seem so real, especially for those who have been recently bereaved.

Rosemary Cullimore, who lost her husband in 2019 speaks out about how the death of Prince Philip triggered memories of losing her husband because of the connection she felt to him. She said:

“Prince Philip had always been in my life. He had always been there for the Queen, but he had always been there for the country too.”

She goes on to explain that losing a husband can stir up all sorts of emotions, but that it was the practical things that really ‘floored her’ by saying:

“I wish I had paid more attention because he did all the DIY jobs around the house and he put the rubbish out. Then all of a sudden I was having to do everything by myself.”

It’s really sad when this happens because people depend on their partners in so many different ways, and although I’m sure the Queen won’t be worrying about DIY or putting the bins out, I am certain that she will miss the companionship aspect enormously.

This is one of the difficulties of relationships because when they end (for whatever reason), they can leave the one left behind so broken hearted, often leading to having feelings of loneliness or isolation.

I mentioned this in a post I wrote about Caroline Flack and I questioned whether being in a relationship is really as beneficial as people think. There is certainly nothing wrong with being single and it makes you much more independent and adept at DIY and problem solving because there’s never anyone else to do it for you!

A damaging relationship (or even the loss of a healthy one), can do so much more harm than not having one at all, and those with mental health problems have to be especially careful about who they choose as romantic partners because the upset can trigger the illness to present itself all over again.

The article goes on to point out that things are so much harder for bereaved families in lockdown with the added problems of restrictions on numbers at funerals and enforced separation from families. This is again identified by Mrs Cullimore who says:

“I feel for those people experiencing loss now. It must make everything so much harder, even if you are the Queen.”

Although grief is a normal human emotion, and can affect a person’s mental ‘health’, grief is not depression or mental illness.

Kay Redfield Jamison who wrote the amazing bipolar memoir ‘An Unquiet Mind’ was once asked to compare the grief of losing her husband to the suffering of depression, and she explained that although grief can trigger or reveal untreated depression, the two things are totally different. She said:

"There is a sanity to grief, in its just proportion of emotion to cause, that madness does not have. People really shouldn't be medicated while grieving because it is a natural human emotion. Grief makes one distraught, but not deranged like bipolar illness does. Grief will hit in waves, strike when one feels most alive. Depression is unrelenting, impenetrable. One cannot access the beat of life. Grief makes one distraught, but not deranged like bipolar illness does”.

It is important to note however, that although grief is not mental illness, it can escalate into depression, or other mental health issues in some cases. I think people should be especially mindful of this and be watchful of others as they go through the grieving process, particularly in the current situation.

If you are yourself, or you know someone who is currently struggling with grief, then you can find support, helplines, chatrooms and advice through the charity Cruse Bereavement Care whose website can be found here.

If you would like to read the article on the BBC News page, then you can find it here.

Thanks for reading,

Speak to you soon,


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