The acceptance of mental health problems has come a long way in our collective consciousness, but Gregory Katz’s insulting headline is proof that we have not arrived at a full understanding of them yet.
“No stiff upper lip.” The AP soon recognized their error, and changed the headline, but their original sin lives on forever in the link preview.
I get that this is a British term and the AP is trying to write a cutesy British headline, but the connotation behind “no stiff upper lip” is that Prince Harry failed to meet this invented tough guy standard—and that by admitting he is dealing with demons, this represents some sort of failure to propagate the stereotype that men are programmed to aspire to. Regardless of whether we actually feel outwardly emotionless, that is the role we have been assigned to play.
Mental health problems are so pervasive and expansive that the term is now about as amorphous as it gets. As we have learned more about our brains and thus, ourselves, the more we realize that issues like anxiety, self-doubt and depression are not confined to those whom we used to incarcerate within padded walls and condemn to electroshock therapy in the not-too-distant past. We all struggle with them to some degree. The fact that a major outlet like the AP can print a headline like this without realizing that they are stigmatizing very real pain is clear evidence that society still has not accepted our collective demons.
This is the type of stuff that literally saves lives. Prince Harry told The Daily Telegraph that after his mother’s death at age 12, he “shut down all his emotions” and had been “very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions.” There are no doubt children that have lost family members who read this interview and came away with a newfound hope, and if the AP was going to go with a non-traditional headline, it should have been one commending his courage—not one insinuating that Prince Harry was brave no more. Publicly admitting that you have unexplained feelings and emotions which affect you on a daily basis is a valiant thing to do precisely because of the social stigma reflected in the AP’s headline. If it weren’t for the pressure placed on those who struggle with mental health problems to just make themselves feel “normal,” things like this would be routine.
We live in a deeply self-conscious society. We have created technology which reflects a deeper understanding of life than humans have demonstrated, and that exacerbates the natural doubt about our role in this universe that we were all born with. About one in five Americans live with a mental illness, and the fact that I feel comfortable enough to note that I am one of that 18.5% shows how far we have come, but that AP headline is a stark reminder of how far we have to go.
Prince Harry opening up to The Daily Telegraph about his struggles was a heroic act, and with one headline, the AP reduced themselves to schoolyard bullies—teasing the awkward kid for opening up about his awkwardness. When the AP trivialized Prince Harry’s struggles, they were implicitly saying this was the kind of stuff that betrayed his “stiff upper lip.”
“My way of dealing with it was sticking my head in the sand, refusing to ever think about my mum, because why would that help?”
“All of a sudden, all of this grief that I have never processed started to come to the forefront and I was like, there is actually a lot of stuff here that I need to deal with.”
“I’ve now been able to take my work seriously, been able to take my private life seriously as well, and been able to put blood, sweat and tears into the things that really make a difference and things that I think will make a difference to everybody else.”
Prince Harry deserves praise, not derision, for providing one of the highest profile examples imaginable of how far-reaching mental health issues are. The AP likely didn’t make a conscious decision to trivialize mental health in that headline, and that’s the problem. This stigma is still embedded in popular opinion, and many of the media’s reflexive impulses are to enforce the status quo—not to advance it.
Jacob Weindling is Paste’s business and media editor, as well as a staff writer for politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.