Prince Harry teamed up with the U.K. military on Monday to urge armed forces members to consider that their mental health is as important as their combat skills.
Harry, 33, and the British Defense Secretary Sir Michael Fallon are launching a new partnership to improve the mental health of current and former military personnel.
The former army captain, who returned to the U.K. from Toronto last week following his successful Invictus Games for wounded and sick veterans and armed forces members, said, “Crucially, fighting fitness is not just about physical fitness. It is just as much about mental fitness too.”
“Elite sports people now focus heavily on their mental approach to training and competing,” he continued. “They know that a perfectly fit body cannot win on the court, on the field, in the ring, or on the track if the mind is not focused. We have all seen professional athletes lose races or matches due to unforced errors. It is no different for anyone in high pressure roles.
“I saw how important physical conditioning was and how we always warmed up before every run or loaded march to reduce the risk of injury. We should have the same approach to conditioning for our mental health too.”
Harry delivered his passionate speech at the Ministry of Defense in London as he announced a joint initiative that will see the Royal Foundation, led by himself and Prince William and Kate Middleton, provide advice and resources to the MoD to improve training, education and information sharing for the armed forces.
His speech comes just after the announcement this weekend that the Royal Foundation is backing a digital start-up to provide some of the tools to help those struggling with mental health challenges to find support. This week is an important week for the royals’ campaign, Heads Together, as they are coordinating new initiatives with World Mental Health Day on Tuesday.
The royals’ are also planning a reception at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday for those who work in the field – when Kate, who has been suffering from severe pregnancy sickness, is expected to make her first appearance since announcing she’s expecting her third child.
Harry added, “I am delighted that we are now going to make the most of what we have learned, and working with the MoD, fundamentally change the conversation on mental health inside the military.
“This isn’t just about what to do when one our friends isn’t themselves. It’s about what we do to help each other stay mentally and emotionally sharp – getting that extra 20 or possibly 30 percent more of performance, that can make all the difference.
“It’s about providing tools and information that will help everyone in the defense community to get ahead of some of these problems before they start.”
Jon White, a triple-amputee and former Royal Marines captain overseeing the project at the Royal Foundation, said one initiative will be to show an annual video featuring veterans and high-profile business leaders talking about mental fitness. White, 34, who was badly wounded by an IED in Sangin, Afghanistan, in 2010, said the emphasis would be on teaching service personnel to talk about emotions and thoughts and keep themselves mentally fit.
“The idea is start to get them thinking about their mental fitness so they talk about it in the same way they do about going to the gym for their physical fitness,” he told reporters.
“In the same way that someone might say they’re going to give the gym a miss because they’ve got a slight strain, if we can get them talking about mental health problems at an early stage, then you don’t let it fester.”
MoD said Monday’s announcement will build upon a recently-launched U.K. government strategy aimed at improving mental health in current military workers, civilian staff their families and veterans.
Defense Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said in a statement, “By looking after our mental health we are building a more effective armed forces that helps keep this country safe. Our soldiers, sailors and airmen are the best in the world but we will only maintain that if we are as serious about improving mental health as we are our combat skills and cutting-edge technology.
“So partnering with key groups like the Royal Foundation is an important part of our strategy to improve the wellbeing of our serving armed forces and veterans.”